This review was originally posted on January 28, 2018.
Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie was probably the best superhero film of 2017. And for damn good reason. It’s an adaptation that holds true to the spirit of its source material and finding a way to work well in a new format.
If you’re a late millennial or an early Gen Z kid (or a zillenial, you probably know about the Captain Underpants book series by Dav Pilkey. They were a sort of, kind of an introduction to graphic novels, before the concept took off and without the need to figure out all the complicated rules of reading manga.
I was a voracious reader and enjoyed them all the same. I never ended up finishing the series as at some point it either stopped publishing for a while or I outgrew them. But, that didn’t mean I wasn’t hyped when I heard about the film. And I was not disappointed.
Considering that this film is for kids and focused on a superhero who wears little but tighty-whiteys, I really admire how restrained everyone was on the potty humor. They could have relied on it but didn’t.
And the film is all the better for it.
Lots of the humor is meta-textual, reliant on 4th wall breaks, and word play.
And for an adaptation that takes plot points from multiple books, the movie still works pretty coherently.
The original novels are quite short, so it made sense to combine a few of the books in order to reach 90+ minutes of screentime. And, the movie really manages to capture the essence of the Captain Underpants series.
The film combines aspects from the first three books, but follows the same general formula.
The movie follows George Beard and Harold Hutchins, the two pranksters of Jerome Horowitz Elementary School. In their spare time, they create Captain Underpants comics which are very popular with their schoolmates.
After a prank goes awry, Principal Krupp threatens to put them into different classes and to prevent this tragedy, they hypnotize Krupp to make him believe he is Captain Underpants.
Because Krupp AKA Captain Underpants lacks things like actual superpowers and common sense, the two boys must supervise him to ensure he doesn’t accidentally kill himself. At the same time, they need to deal with their new child-hating science teacher, Professor Poopypants.
There are some other things: Melvin, the school nerd, is also an antagonist; and there is a romantic subplot involving Krupp and one of the lunch ladies.
The two biggest continuity differences between the books and movie are pretty minor, and work better for the sake of storytelling. Nor do they make a difference in the overall narrative.
But one of the BEST things about the movie is the character depth and relationships when compared to the books. George and Harold’s friendship is one of the defining features of the movie. It isn’t just based on pulling pranks or comic books, the two truly care about each other, and they aren’t afraid to show it. They hold hands, and are open with their emotions, which is very rare for male protagonists in children’s media. It’s great.
Krupp’s not cranky because he is a bad guy, but because he is lonely. It’s been done before, but it’s done well here.
Captain Underpants is also more well-meaning in his efforts than in the books. He cares about George and Harold, and all the kids in the elementary school. Because of this, his character isn’t as annoying or grating as I expected.
Poopypants is the same, but when you’re a scientist who wants to eliminate laughter from the world because everybody cracks up when they hear your name, you’re pretty good from an entertainment perspective. Anything more than that would ruin it.
And the voice acting is *chef’s kiss* magnifique.
Ed Helms as Krupp and Captain Underpants was particularly great since each of the characters sounded different and distinct.
Harold and George, voiced by Thomas Middleditch and Kevin Hart respectively, were great. I know some people don’t like child characters voiced by adults, but once you get over the incongruity, I think it works. They’re very expressive and I didn’t even recognize either celebrity’s voice which is another plus.
I’m also in love with the animation choices. Rather than making all the characters hyper realistic like many computer animated films tend to do, the movie keeps the books’ distinctive art style. It’s over the top, super cartoony and colorful, but it works. It works really well.
And they also switch animation styles every once in a while. You’ll be very pleased to know they kept the Flip-O-Rama.
This is also incredibly biased of me, but I really freaking love the end credits song. The fact that it was written and sung by “Weird Al” Yankovic might play a role, but let’s face it: if you needed someone to write and perform a theme song for an underpants themed superhero, is there really another choice?
My biggest complaint about the movie is that it tries to do a little too much at once. It gets overwhelming and burned with trying to incorporate so many ideas and concepts from the books at once, but overall it’s a very smartly written, interesting and light-hearted movie.
And that’s the scoop!.
Year of release: 2017
Length: 89 minutes
Director: David Soren
Producers: Mireille Soria, Mark Swift
Screenplay: Nicholas Stoller
Based on the books by Dav Pilkey
If you liked this review read: “The Epic Tales of Captain Underpants” is the perfect show for the kid in all of us.