Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie - Movie Review

When I was younger I absolutely adored the Captain Underpants series of books by Dav Pilkey. Following the exploits of two wildly imaginative troublemakers George and Harold who transform their mean school Principal Mr. Krupp into one of their comic book creations, the high spirited and heroic but extremely dim superhero Captain Underpants, the books featured plenty of hilarious and wacky moments, tonnes of fourth wall breaks, some toilet humour and a message imbuing the value of imagination. As such I absolutely ate these books up and got very excited at the prospect of a movie based on the series. That movie was announced by DreamWorks Animation all the way back in 2011, meaning we’ve been sitting on this for quite a while. Hell, the idea of a movie had been a prospect back in the late 90s where Pilkey wanted the late Chris Farley to play the title character. So yeah, it’s been a long time.

Finally we have it, right after the book series came to a conclusion with The Sensational Saga of Sir Stinks-a-Lot in 2015 – better late than never I suppose. The film takes its primary storyline from the first and fourth books in the series, The Adventures of Captain Underpants and The Perilous Plot of Professor Poopypants. We follow the exploits of best friends George Beard (Kevin Hart) and Harold Hutchins (Thomas Middleditch), who work to bring joy to the depressingly dark Jerome Horowitz Elementary School by creating wild pranks against their sadistic teachers, including their principal Mr. Krupp (Ed Helms). When Krupp catches them and threatens to split them into separate classes the duo make a last ditch effort to stop him by hypnotising him, in the process making him believe that he is one of their comic book creations Captain Underpants. Now the boys have to keep up with the incredibly dim-witted superhero and keep him out of trouble whilst also attempting to foil the plans of their new science teacher Professor Poopypants (Nick Kroll) who’s out to rid the world of laughter after his anger at people constantly laughing at his name.

Right away this is a very loyal adaptation of the spirit of the books; the whole premise of Captain Underpants is absolutely absurd and the films manage to capture the wackiness of the series wonderfully, as enjoyable silliness oozes out of every pore of this movie. As with the books there is plenty of breaking the fourth wall which doesn’t feel too unnatural and there are some funny comments on the ridiculousness of the whole affair. There is some toilet humour in here to be expected but it’s less than you’d expect and is ultimately not too bad overall. Flip-o-Rama also makes an appearance and is gleefully enjoyable as it is in the books, a way to show off the crazy action scenes in a cheaper and sillier manner. That’s not to say that there isn’t great action in the film too, as there are plenty of epic action moments, such as in the climax featuring Captain Underpants taking on Poopypants and a giant sentient toilet that are thrilling and funny to watch. The animation style meanwhile captures the style of the books and is quite reminiscent of The Peanuts Movie whilst also standing out with different forms being used frequently such as 2-D animation and even sock puppetry. This gives the film a wonderfully enjoyable visual flair to it that suits its wacky tone fantastically.

As for the characters Ed Helms is clearly having an absolute ball as the voices of both Mr. Krupp and Captain Underpants, hamming it up with the pair of them. As the former he captures a maniacal sense of anger which makes him both comical and slightly intimidating, as the latter he’s gleeful all the way through and captures both the nobleness and the dopiness of the Waistband Warrior with great panache – special mention goes to scenes where Captain Underpants must disguise himself as Krupp where Helms sells the incompetence of the character excellently. Nick Kroll is also having fun as the villainous Professor Poopypants with his European accent that veers on being slightly annoying but doesn’t become insufferable. The film does suffer a bit with the voices of George and Harold, as well as school nerd and tattletale Melvin Sneedley (Jordan Peele), being provided by adults, which makes them sound way older than they should be and becomes quite jarring. Actual child actors would have been better, but that’s a minor nitpick in the grand scheme of things.

Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie is by no means a masterpiece and is ridiculously silly but fans of the books will likely have no complaints as the whole thing is wonderfully loyal to the spirit of the series. The animation is fantastic and full of life, the jokes for the most part land and make the whole film such an enjoyable romp, the voice acting for Captain Underpants and Professor Poopypants are wonderfully hammy and funny (even though the kids voices do suffer a bit from sounding far too old) and the aspects of the books that make it stand out, such as the fourth wall breaking and Flip-o-Rama, are all present and correct. This makes for a hilariously fun adventure and we can only hope that Captain Underpants: The Even More Epic Sequel will be on the cards soon.

Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie – directed by David Soren, written by Nicholas Stoller, produced by Mireille Soria and Mark Swift, with the voices of Ed Helms, Kevin Hart, Thomas Middleditch, Nick Kroll, Jordan Peele and Kristen Schaal. A DreamWorks Animation/Scholastic Entertainment/Mikros Image production, a 20th Century Fox film

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