Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie

It’s important for kids to read, I know it was when I was a child and my teachers and parents were pressing upon me the importance of the written word. However, I also think that there is an important maxim that is often overlooked when it comes to children and books: kids books are essential to those who read them, they help shape who we grow up to be, our philosophy and outlook. We all know that Harry Potter has been the fantasy series of my generation, because we grew up with them. But I also had other series that I can sight as highly influential in my life, the Groosham Grange series by Anthony Horowitz, His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman, Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea series, as well as Terry Pratchett’s Disc World and a series of illustrated books about a superhero named after an item of clothing.

He is Captain Underpants and he has an animated movie out made by Dreamworks starring some of the biggest names in comedy: Kevin Hart, Ed Helms and Nick Kroll. So is this film as good as I remember the books to be, or is it best that I put aside childish things? I grew up on the original Captain Underpants books by Dav Pilkey, so I went into this film with a level of rose-tinted nostalgia. This is a kids film,  and while I am not really a kid anymore – though my interests and behaviour haven’t really changed since I was ten – I had hoped it would do the books (and my childhood memories) justice.

Elementary school students George Beard and Thomas Middleditch are best friends. They are also world class pranksters and creators of a series of comic books called Captain Underpants, a superhero who wears a pair of underpants and a red cape. However, their friendship is threatened by their Principal, Mr Krupp, a grumpy, lonely individual, who attempts to separate the boys after one too many pranks. To stop him, the boys hypnotise Krupp to believe he is their comic creation. Now they must come to terms with their new power, protect their powerless principal and stop a new science teacher with a ridiculous name from ridding the world of laughter.

Aesthetically Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie looks fine; it has a suitable cartoony vibe that draws inspiration from the original drawings by Dav Pilkey. The colours are bright and vibrant, the lighting shifts appropriately according to the mood of the piece. It is upbeat and energetic, filled with pop music and a great little Weird Al Yankovic number over the end credits. The voice cast is similarly exuberant. Kevin Hart and Thomas Middleditch do a decent job as George and Harold, toeing the always fine line between self-awareness and believability. Ed Helms is similarly engaging as Principal Krupp and Captain Underpants, able to switch between the two with almost relative ease. There is also great back up voice work form Nick Kroll as the villainous Professor Poopypants, Jordan Peele as the geeky Melvin Sneedly, as well as an almost unrecognisable Kristin Schaal as Lunch Lady Edith.

If you are looking for a harmless film you can take your kids to see on a wet British summer day, then you can do much worse that Captain Underpants. However, for a comedy, especially one for children, the most damning thing I could say about it, is that I didn’t hear a single child laugh at any of the (quote-unquote) jokes, even though the copious amount of fart jokes should have children rolling in the aisles. The story is similarly lacking. After the initial set up the film just becomes a list of “and then” story telling, with filmmakers throwing anything at the movie to see what will stick. This is coupled with an energy and sound mix that begin to cause migraines, while Captain Underpants outlived its 90 minutes welcome very quickly as the film becomes a cluttered mush of plot threads, voices and jokes that didn’t quite land.

I remember enjoying the toilet humour based adventures of these wacky characters as a child, but as an adult, I merely tolerated the movie. Captain Underpants is fine for a family film, but when studios like Laika are putting out films like Kubo and the Two Strings I now expect more from kids films.

Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie is out now.


Updated: Aug 02, 2017

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