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Film Review: Captain Underpants



Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie is based off the children’s comic book series from the turn-of-the-century (the 21st century, obviously). As children’s books, it is chalk full of fart and toilet jokes — humor perfectly tailored for its prepubescent readers. The story lines throughout the 12 books have elementary themes of friendship and basic morality, ideas that fit the maturing mind of a child. These are great for a child to laugh at the incredibly juvenile jokes, pun fully intended, but lose all entertainment value as the reader ages. That is not necessarily a bad thing, but shows its roots as solely children’s entertainment. The film does not stray far from the source material: It is full of Uranus jokes and quips about gross names. This is not necessarily a poor decision; it pleases its target audience, and not much else, due to its one-dimensional perspective.

 

The movie boasts what is perhaps the most impressive lineup of megastar comedic talent of the summer, from Kevin Hart and Nick Kroll (fresh off of his Broadway run of Oh, Hello with John Mulaney) to Silicon Valley's Thomas Middleditch and Jordan Peele (most recently, the auteur behind Get Out). 

 

The narrative follows mischievous fourth graders George Beard (Kevin Hart) and Harold Hutchins (Thomas Middleditch), an aspiring comic book writer and illustrator, respectively, creating their farcical superhero, Captain Underpants. The mean-spirited principal Mr. Krupp (Ed Helms) is the tyrant of Jerome Horowitz Middle School. When George and Harold’s latest prank on inventive tattle-tale Melvin Sneedly (Jordan Peele) goes awry, George hypnotizes Mr. Krupp to become Captain Underpants to avoid being separated from Harold in school. George and Harold have the ability to change Mr. Krupp into Captain Underpants with a snap of the fingers and vice versa with a splash of water to the face.

 

The plot is similar to the first couple books and follows the same style of humor; the movie begins and ends with a Uranus joke. This makes the film a faithful adaptation of the the source material, but that is where the positives start to disintegrate. The moral of the story, which is so blatantly plastered on the screen it nearly becomes annoying, is a tale of friendship between George and Harold. There is neither substantial rising conflict nor falling action to deliver a compelling story; there is only a serviceable and unsuspenseful climax. The lacking of these critical steps makes the story between the two best friends trivialized, it separates this from Up or Wall-E. The Einstein-esque Professor Poopypants (Nick Kroll) is a mad scientist determined to stop all laughter in the world, as his last name has been the butt of the jokes (har har) his entire life. His story arc is nothing more than that simple idea — and while the kids in the crowd will likely be endlessly delighted with that simple joke, their parents will be rolling their eyes after hearing the 35th Poopypants joke.

 

Director David Soren made a judgement call during production: deciding to make a movie specifically for children, and not the family. This film has no other purpose other than entertain the prepubescent set. This film lacks all the adult themes of the Toy Story saga, the greatest trilogy in film history (take that Lord of the Rings, The Dark Knight, and Star Wars original trilogy), or Up to elevate it to the next level of artistic expression. This is a design choice, and it costs the movie to have almost an unwatchable enjoyment value for most of it.

 

There are a few genuinely funny moments. When the secretary stays on hold for the entire duration of the film for a fake giveaway and the quip about teachers being underpaid in the education system are hysterical scenes. They are so few and far between that the adult audience has to sludge through the relentless Poopypants jokes ad nauseam.

 

The A list voice acting earns its keep. Kevin Hart and Thomas Middleditch sound like animated kids hyped up on sugar, pun not intended. Ed Helms (Andy from the U.S. version of The Office) does a fantastic job creating a dichotomy between the brooding, angry Mr. Krupp and a vibrant, effervescent Captain Underpants. Nick Kroll has a snarly, European voice that resembles a cross between his character The European Man on Kroll Show and his appearance on Community as a German foosball player. Jordan Peele’s clueless nerd is one of his better character bits, high praise considering his illustrious career as a comedic sketch artist. All the actors give it their all to bring these characters to life.

 

Considering the budget of $38 million, the animation is impressive. The colors are vibrant, with beautiful displays of the palate of CGI, from the treehouse to the classroom. Captain Underpants is quite unorthodox with its inclusion of traditionally animated scenes and even a sock puppet scene, one of the few bright spots of the movie. The iconic Flip-o-rama makes an appearance for a scene and it delivers the best moment of the movie, a nod to a feature that made the books popular. The mixture of all different types of animation flow smoothly and do not obfuscate the viewing experience.

 

Captain Underpants plays it safe and remains faithful to the source material that sold over 70 million copies. It delivers on the incessant poop jokes and the trivialized story of friendship. It is aimed for the children only, and that is not necessarily a bad idea. Parents will not be walking out weeping like Inside Out or grasping their children in embrace after Toy Story 3; they will most likely heavily sighing after hearing that Uranus joke twice in 89 minutes. This is a family movie to spend an afternoon with your kid under 10. For anyone else, this is a movie you can skip and not miss out on anything.

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Contributors

Renard Boissiere, Evan Z.E. Hammond, Naimonu James, Wilson Koewing, J.A. Lloyd, Nina Luckman, Dead Huey Long, Alexis Manrodt, Joseph Santiago, Andrew Smith, Cynthia Via, Austin Yde

Photographers


Art Director

Michael Weber, B.A.

Editor


Listings Editor

Linzi Falk

Editor Emeritus

Alexis Manrodt


B. E. Mintz


Stephen Babcock

Published Daily