Full disclosure: I fell asleep a couple of times during Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie. I’m not sure if it was because of the movie or myself. I laughed, I was curious as to what happens next, just not curious enough to want to stay awake.
Do not let my naps fool you though; Captain Underpants is actually pretty funny. It’s not gut busting funny, but there are giggles to be had. This is a kids movie with silly dumb jokes and a smattering of meta jokes.
George (Kevin Hart) and Harold (Thomas Middleditch) are next door neighbors and best friends. They pull an endless amount of pranks together as well as draw and write their own comic book Captain Underpants. A name and character that looks and feels like it was created by two boys in elementary school.
Principal Krupp (Ed Helms) is the sort we’re used to seeing in kids movies like this. He’s a growling, maniacal, authoritarian who rules the elementary school with a humorless iron fist. He’s the type who will cut the arts and music budget so he can install a push button steel office door with flashing lights.
By their very character definitions, these three are destined to clash. The story takes a small wry twist when Mr. Krupp finally has enough to separate the two and put them in separate classes. In a last ditch effort to appeal to the man George picks up a plastic hypno ring that he got a from a cereal box and tries to hypnotize Mr. Krupp.
Part of the joy of Captain Underpants is it’s heedless childish abandon in its own conceits. A more mature movie would tried to have some cockamamie reason for why the ring worked. Instead our characters are just as shocked as we are.
The movie does have a clever bit of reasoning though for those wondering how Krupp can know and behave like Captain Underpants without the boys telling him anything about him. It’s simple. He’s read them and has even told the boys, though juvenile, they have promise.
As much as the movie makes Krupp out to be some small minded bully, they discover that all his bluster is really just that, bluster. When the boys break into his house they are shocked to find it so a.) normal and b.) so lonely. The boys even try to play matchmaker between Krupp and lunch lady Edith (Kristen Schaal).
David Soren, the director, and Nicholas Stoller adapted the books by David Pilkey. In so doing they have made a kids movie that seems giddy to be alive. There are meta jokes, meta meta jokes, as well as jokes about the villain’s name, Professor Poopypants (Nick Kroll) whose German accent seems right out of a broad 1930’s farce. Captain Underpants is deeply silly and at times oddly inventive.
When George and Harold are trading nightmare scenarios about what will happen to them in separate classes, the movie switches to sock puppets to play out their greatest fears. When the robots show up and start firing lasers at each other even the boys question the logic behind it.
Soren and Stoller have done a nice job of understanding how a child’s imagination works. There are boundaries but they are permeable and can easily morph into something else in a blink of an eye. A child’s imagination only seems disorganized because of the energy and how they playfully disabuse logic.
The real stroke of genius is the Looney Toons gatling gun approach to joke telling. George and Harold discover that snapping their finger can turn Krupp into Captain Underpants, and water will turn him back to Krupp. There is a wonderful montage of them testing this with the editing corresponding to a frenetic pace. Yet it still has time to giggle itself silly when Professor Poopypants pronounces his full name. (Hint: It rhymes with diarrhea.)
I fell asleep yes. But I’m also a little over the age range the movie is aiming for. But if you were to go with your own kids you would not be horribly bored. I found the movie to be oddly relaxing. There aren’t many kids movies out right now, although I dare say Wonder Woman is for everyone of every age.
Still you can do worse than Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie. It’s fun, it’s irreverent, it’s deeply silly, and bears no resemblance to anything going on outside in the real world. If nothing else if you got the time, money, and the inclination it makes for nice little nap.