Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 29 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG for mild Rude Humor throughout
Directed by: David Soren
Written by: Nicholas Stoller
(based on the CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS novels by Dave Pilkey)
Voices of: Kevin Hart, Ed Helms, Thomas Middleditch, Nick Kroll, Jordan Peele & Kristen Schaal
Like most children of the 90s (and the new millennium), I devoured CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS novels in elementary school. These books were the perfect mixture of imagination and potty humor. When I heard that DreamWorks was making a computer-animated film of this endearingly goofy book series, I had high hopes. Having finally sat through yet another one of my nostalgic childhood staples come to life on the big screen (alongside GOOSEBUMPS and POWER RANGERS), I can confirm UNDERPANTS is juvenile entertainment that should appeal to both adults and children. Anyone who liked CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS as a kid will have a great time watching this movie, while crowds of children will also have a laugh-filled blast.
George Beard (Kevin Hart) and Harold Hutchins (Thomas Middleditch) are best friends at Jerome Horwitz Elementary School. Together, they enjoy executing elaborate pranks on teachers, bringing laughter to their bored classmates, and working on their comic books…about the adventures of underwear-clad superhero Captain Underpants. When grumpy Principal Krupp (Ed Helms) attempts to annihilate their friendship by moving them into separate classes, George hypnotizes Krupp and this last-ditch effort works far better than expected as Krupp transforms into Captain Underpants. However, evil genius Professor Poopypants (Nick Kroll) and tattletale Melvin Sneedly (Jordan Peele) plot to rob the world of laughter. It’s up to George, Harold, and the superpower-less Captain Underpants/Krupp to save the day!
DreamWorks has had good animation (MEGAMIND, SHREK) and mediocre animation (HOME, SHARK TALE) throughout their filmography, but CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS looks visually great. This film nails the look of the many illustrations in Dave Pilkey’s books. The film also incorporates different styles of animation for comic books, day dreams, and inner-thoughts (ranging from hand-drawn styles to sock puppets). This blending of animation styles creates a rollercoaster ride for children’s eyes and a visual treat for grown-ups/teenagers.
Besides delivering cool visuals, this movie nails everything that made the UNDERPANTS books fun. There is plenty of silly potty humor, a fast-paced delivery of jokes, and different call-backs to the series that will no doubt make many old-school fans ecstatic (including a hilarious Flip-O-Rama sequence). The film also plays around with fourth-wall breaking as Harold and George frequently address the viewer, stopping the action in freeze frames and even deliberately messing with the film’s narrative structure.
As George and Harold, Kevin Hart and Thomas Middleditch get lots of laughs and sound convincing enough as kids (even though both actors are in their late-30s). Ed Helms seems to be having a blast as both Principal Krupp and Captain Underpants, changing his voice depending on the character’s shift in personality. The scenes in which Krupp snaps into Underpants and back to his normal self are hilarious, providing lots of well-executed slapstick comedy.
Nick Kroll is decent enough as sinister science teacher Professor Poopypants, playing his character as a one-dimensional baddie right from his first scene as opposed to a picked-upon antagonist who is driven to his evil in CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS AND THE PERILOUS PLOT OF PROFESSOR POOPYPANTS. Jordan Peele is enjoyable as Melvin, setting up a possible villain for a sequel (he does turn into Bionic Booger Boy in the fifth and sixth novels of the series), and Kristen Schaal is amusing as a lunch lady with the hots for Principal Krupp.
Besides excelling at juvenile humor and nailing the goofiness of the source material, CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS even squeezes in a few good messages about friendship, balancing out good pranks with bad ones, and being able to laugh at yourself. These moral lessons are a bit all over the place in execution, but seemed to be included with good intentions and will likely leave an effect on impressionable younger viewers. There is one brief stretch of the film that noticeably seems to drag and not every joke works, but CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS is a surprisingly accomplished animated film nonetheless and I hope it receives (at least one or two) sequels.
If you have any shred of nostalgia for the book series and can laugh at childish humor (ranging from farts to wordplay about Uranus), then CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS should be right up your alley. The animation looks great, the film perfectly captures the source material, and almost all of the jokes get laughs. The kids in my theater were dying with laughter, while the parents and nostalgic adults also seemed to be having a good time with this film. CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS comes highly recommended!