Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie
2017, PG, 89 min. Directed by David Soren. Voices by Kevin Hart, Thomas Middleditch, Ed Helms, Nick Kroll, Jordan Peele, Kristen Schaal.
REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., June 9, 2017
Kids adore potty humor. It’s as if 8-year-olds (particularly boys) are genetically wired to find vaguely forbidden words like “butt” and “booger” and “fart” innately hilarious; they’re like Pavlov’s pups, tittering and giggling at the mere mention of certain bodily functions and parts without fail. The power of this vocabulary to elicit a smirky mirth in youngsters (and, sometimes, in their grownup versions) is sweetly celebrated in the genial animated feature Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie, which is based on the popular series of children’s novels by author and illustrator Dav Pilkey. Without crossing the line into uncomfortable vulgarity like so many other studio products aimed at the grade-school demographic today, this super silly but surprisingly grounded movie features next-door neighbors George and Harold, two fourth-graders utterly devoted to each other and their artistic vocation: the creation of homemade comic books featuring a pot-bellied superhero who wears nothing but an enormous pair of tighty-whities stretched up to his nippleless barrel chest, and a cape tied around an area where his neck ought to be because, well, a bald and almost naked fat guy named Underpants is one of the funniest things ever when you’re a certain age.
Fantasy becomes reality for the boys when they hypnotize their arch-nemesis, the spiteful school principal Mr. Krupp, into believing he is their comic book champion come to life (“Tra la LAAAA!”), and crazy adventures ensue. (The flip-flop between the Mr. Krupp/Captain Underpants personas, triggered by a finger-snap in one instance and a splash of water in the other, is the movie’s best gag.) But a bigger threat to George, Harold, and their classmates enters the scene in the form of the school’s new science teacher, a strangely coiffed, short little man who sounds like Dr. Strangelove (Kroll has a ball voicing the character), a madman intent upon ridding the world of laughter due to the ridicule he has endured his entire life given his unfortunate name: Professor Pee-Pee Diarrheastein Poopypants. Try to say that out loud without smiling just a little.
A giant toilet tromps around shooting rolls of Charmin and TPs a neighborhood; whoopee cushions and flatulence resound in a windy performance of Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture”; and the seventh planet from the sun is inevitably referenced, as you knew it would be. To the delight of its young audience, juvenile humor abounds in Captain Underpants, but the movie is smart about the way it contextualizes this lowbrow comedy. There’s an innocence about it all, a rarity in this genre, one with which adults will nostalgically connect. Ah, to be a kid again and find endless amusement in something as simple as a grouping of consonants and vowels.