Hot Take: If you want to see the difference between a movie that is juvenile and a movie that celebrates juvenile, see Captain Underpants. It’s an overall harmless good time at the movies for all ages but especially kids.
Make no mistake about it, Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie is geared toward the younger set. Filled with potty humor and outlandishly imaginative vignettes, the movie, based on a best-selling children’s novel series by Dav Pilkey, is fully loaded to be an onslaught on a kid’s funny bone but also not so immature that an adult can’t find it funny, too. It also doesn’t try overly hard to put something in there for adults but rather focuses on being smarter in its juvenile humor to offer itself as an opportunity for adults to remember what it was like to be a kid and get lost in the friendship of George and Harold.
George (Kevin Hart) and Harold (Thomas Middleditch) have been friends since kindergarten and are now in the fourth grade. They’ve spent their grade school years delivering masterfully executed pranks that fill the halls of Jerome Horwitz Elementary School with much needed laughter much to the chagrin of Principal Krupp (Ed Helms). The imaginative duo also puts a lot of time and energy into creating the Captain Underpants comic that features George’s stories and Harold’s artistry. It’s yet another thing that Principal Krupp has been critical of the pair for. Krupp’s proclamation of catching the duo red handed finally comes true and he decides the ultimate punishment would be to separate the two and put them in different class rooms. Out of desperation, George uses a hypnotic ring and fill Krupp with suggestions which ultimately leads them to turning him into their fictitious superhero Captain Underpants. They realize that despite the desperation move working, the two have their hands full with Krupp in his Underpants form and are now forced to babysit their powerless pseudo-superhero.
The film is not short of a nemesis for the duo and actually has two. One is Melvin Sneedley (Jordan Peele) who tattles on the duo in exchange for extra credit whenever he gets the opportunity. The other is Professor Poopypants (Nick Kroll) who wants to rid the world of laughter thanks to his laughter-inducing name. Sneedley even unwittingly becomes the sidekick of Poopypants at some point and you have a classic comic book subplot that unfolds while George and Harold’s unbreakable friendship remains the centerpiece of the story.
The film isn’t short of immature moments or juvenile themes. However, it spends more time celebrating this rather than just using it as a crutch. I think both kids and adults can either relate or reminisce about their closest childhood friendship and, for that reason, Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie is a genuine joy to watch. If there’s a criticism, it’s that if somehow the adult audience doesn’t find themselves waxing nostalgic about the bonds of youthful friendship, the rapid fire storytelling can get a little exhausting and there’s an opportunity to lose interest along the way. Hopefully, that’s not the case for you and you can walk away with a satisfying movie going experience that is easy to digest if you have eager kids ready to ransack the theaters. The pace and quality of the movie should be enough to keep them at bay for the 89 minute runtime.
“Spoiler Free” Pros
- The Voice Work of Hart and Middleditch
Hart has a run of movies where he’s paired with another actor. This might be his best duo yet. Maybe it is helped by the juvenile tone which keeps Hart from slipping into his stand up act as he does on occasion in other performances. Whatever it is, the pair have great chemistry.
- Inventive Ways to Enter the Imagination of George and Harold
In addition to quality animation, the film has a few set pieces featuring imaginative ways to share what is going on in George and Harold’s head. Live-action sock puppets, a flipbook and CG animation are examples of how the story is shown a little differently when George and Harold start to share the inner workings of their mind. It’s different and it works.
“Spoiler Free” Cons
- It Might Be Too Juvenile for the More Sophisticated Set
If you find yourself unable to be a kid again, Captain Underpants is definitely not going to work for you. Here’s a test, did the mention of a character Professor Poopypants at least make you smile thanks to its ridiculousness? Well, there’s still hope for you yet. Tra la la!!!