Now when I was younger I was a big fan of the Captain Underpants books. As immature as they were, there was a great level of charm to the books, and actually a bit of a subversive streak if you look deeper into them. However, when the film was announced I didn’t really pay much attention to it, even after the trailers for the film came out. Then the reviews came in, most of them mentioning how funny the film was, so I decided to give the film a chance and I’m glad I did, this is easily the most I’ve laughed in a cinema this year since Lego Batman.The film focuses on George Beard and Harold Hutchins, two kids who want to improve the lives of their fellow schoolmates through a combination of elaborate pranks and creating the Captain Underpants comic book series. When they get caught perpetrating one of their pranks by their Principal and antagonistic force, Krupp and threatened with being separated, they use a hypnosis ring to turn Krupp into Captain Underpants, resulting in chaos as Krupp goes around trying to stop crime. At the same time though, mad scientist Professor Poopypants is using the school as grounds for his plan to rid the world of laughter as payback for his name always being laughed at, with Harold and George working to stop him. Now from what I remember of the books, this plot essentially combines the first four books together to create a narrative long enough to sustain a full length film, with most of the material coming from the first and fourth books. This works in ensuring that a good pace is maintained throughout the film and allows for jokes from across the series to be incorporated into the film. There is some good character work as well for Krupp, showing him to be a lonely man using his callous exterior to mask his loneliness, although none of the other characters get the same level of development as Krupp. The main selling point of the film though is the humour. Most of the humour is incredibly immature, focusing on toilet humour, which works really well in the film when done right, along with a good use of puns. The best elements of the humour are the times when the film breaks the fourth wall, with the film being presented as if it’s directed by Harold and George, similar to how the books presented themselves as being written by Harold and George. This includes Harold and George addressing the camera, changes in the animation style, credits rolling during the film, critics quotes after a prolonged fart joke and the characters freezing the film. All of these elements induced the most laughter from me and formed some of the most manic pieces of comedy I’ve seen this year, although to explain more would spoil the film.
The voice cast meanwhile are a mixed bag, with the main issue I had with it being with Kevin Hart and Thomas Middleditch as George and Harold. They have good chemistry together and deliver the jokes well but their voices sound way too old for the characters they’re playing and it did draw me out of the film sometimes. However, the rest of the cast fairs better. Ed Helms is comedic gold as Krupp/Captain Underpants, there being a clear difference in the voices between the two, Krupp being a great, mean character whilst Underpants kind of sounds like The Tick, which fits the character, Helms is also able to do the change between the two effectively in the scenes where the character changes back and forth multiple times. Nick Kroll as Professor Poopypants meanwhile is a lot of fun, his accent being the right kind of dodgy for this material and delivering the jokes effectively. Jordan Peele meanwhile is unrecognisable as the secondary antagonist of the film Melvin. He does a good stereotypical nerdy voice and again has good comedic timing. Kristen Schaal meanwhile, whilst not getting much to do, shines in her brief scenes, bringing her unique brand of charm to her character.
On a technical level, the film is very impressive. The animation in the film perfectly captures the style of the books, the characters looking like they came right off the page with the character movements being the right level of exaggerated, with the film reminding me a bit of The Peanuts Movie in terms of animation style. The shifting styles of animation are well handled and create some great comedic possibilities, with these including 2D animation, flip books and even sock puppets. The music meanwhile adds to the comedic tone of the film, creating strong tonal dissonance which adds to the effect of the film, whilst the end credits song done by Weird Al Yankovic is exactly what you would expect from that image.
Overall, Captain Underpants: The First Epic Adventure was really surprising. When it was first announced I didn’t think anything of it but it ended up being a really strong comedy that has both incredibly immature toilet humour and some smart fourth wall breaking gags, along with a good bit of character work. Sure some of the characters get short changed and the voice acting from Kevin Hart and Thomas Middleditch feels a bit off but this is still a very entertaining film.
My Rating: 4/5