Movie Review: Captain Underpants
Who cares about London or France when you’ve got a superhero rocking underpants? Dav Pilkey’s potty-obsessed character makes a memorable debut with as much fart as he has heart
Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie
Starring: Kevin Hart, Ed Helms, Nick Kroll, Thomas Middleditch, Jordan Peele
Directed by: David Soren
Running time: 1hr 29 mins
MPAA Rating: Parental Guidance
By Katherine Monk
(June 7, 2017) Superheroes wear their underpants on the outside, so why not create a superhero who wears nothing but Y-front briefs on his pear-shaped body? It’s honest. It’s uncharacteristically human. Most importantly, it’s funny, and when it comes to kid entertainments, a giggle is worth more than Oscar gold.
Childrens’ book author Dav Pilkey understood that core objective when he picked up a pencil and created the fearless master of potty humour in 1997. He wanted to speak directly to kids, specifically young boys who don’t like reading, so he filled the pages with words like “barf” and “fart,” offered two young mischievous sidekicks, and found a way to balance old-fashioned morality tales with a prankster sensibility.
The result is a franchise that’s sold in excess of 80 million books worldwide and is credited with turning young boys into readers. That’s a big job for any pair of briefs, but the attraction is easy to understand if you decide to check out this first epic adventure to hit theatres.
The first thing you notice is the animation. It looks like a kid redrew the opening Dreamworks logo before we even get to the first frames, all styled in fat crayon, in two flat dimensions. We’re in the universe created by George (Kevin Hart) and Harold (Thomas Middleditch), best friends in the fourth grade, and habitual mischief-makers.
These are the boys who use toilet paper as tree garlands, exchange cheeky notes with scatological references, and spend most of their creative energy on mocking Principal Krupp (Ed Helms). In turn, Principal Krupp obsesses about punishing George and Harold — once he gets his hands on some irrefutable proof, that is.
Harold and George are veteran escape artists. They’ve eluded Krupp’s claws for years, but when Krupp teams with the Grade 4 goody-goody brainiac, George and Harold feel the full weight of the law.
Fortunately, they find a way to hypnotize Krupp and turn him into the hero of their very own comic book franchise, Captain Underpants.
The whole movie is contained within the imagination of these merry-making pre-teens, which means the viewer can dispense with such things as plot believability and real world physics. The best approach is to regress, remember all the kids who made your life miserable way back when, then salivate over the inevitable reckoning.
Just about every kid will feel vindicated by one scene or other because just about every character is recognizable, despite the cartoonish shapes and dimensions, because the feelings are bang on.
George and Harold are best friends. They share a cohesive and creative world. The biggest threat to their happiness is being separated from each other, and that’s real. Director David Soren’s decision to focus on this innocent love as the film’s centrepiece is why it works: It offsets the poopy goofiness and softens the meaner side of the story — because as much as we like George and Harold, they aren’t angels.
Some of their actions are mean, irresponsible and dangerous — which makes them all the more accessible, and their eventual redemption all the more meaningful. Yet, the film never feels like a sell-out to adult sensibilities.
Soren and the screenwriters balance the farts and giggles with grown-up satire, making fun of everything from supermodels to the lack of remuneration and respect for teachers. It’s an odd mix, to be sure, but for celebrating a child’s creative urge, the transformative power of art and the pleasure of undressing power with wit, Captain Underpants is a sweet brief encounter.
THE EX-PRESS.CA, June 7, 2017