For the last twenty years, Dave Pilkey’s adventures of George, Harold, and Captain Underpants have captured the imaginations of children across the world. Now, the trio has embarked on their biggest adventure yet: their own feature length movie! Making the jump from the comic book page to the big screen is always a gamble, especially with a property that is so particular in its tone and storytelling like the Captain Underpants comics. Thankfully, Dreamworks Animation was up to the task, bringing the comics brilliantly to life with its particular brand of madcap humor mixed with a big heart, making it a perfect offering for family’s this summer.
George (Kevin Hart) and Harold (Thomas Middleditch) are two best friends, who also happen to be the biggest pranksters in the school. A fact that their prickly principle, Mr. Krupp (Ed Helms), can’t stand. The two are locked in a constant battle with Mr. Krupp, who is trying to catch them in the act of their various pranks, so he can split them apart in class. When it seems their days together may be numbered, George uses a hypno ring he got from a cereal box to hypnotize Mr. Krupp. With their principle now under their command, George and Harold decide to make Mr. Krupp the hero from the comic book they created, Captain Underpants! Of course, nothing goes as easy as they could hope, and the creation of a hero brings a new super villain to town. With their super powerless Principle who thinks he’s super heroic, the boys must find a way to save their school, and keep their Principle alive in the process.
If this sounds like a breathe of fresh air in the superhero genre, it really is. Much like The Lego Batman Movie earlier this year, Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie is a hilarious, fun, and loving satirical take on the superhero genre. Much of that steams from the fantastic script by Nicholas Stoller, who is no stranger to the world of comedy. Best known for his work on films like Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Neighbors, and The Muppets, Stoller has always found a way to balance the humanity of his characters with over the top humor. This movie balances to the two things with ease, where the jokes come fast and furious, while also finding quieter moments for the characters to grow. It can’t be understated just how whip smart Stoller’s script is, with a great mix of satire, as well as a strong biting commentary on the current state of public schools.
Director David Soren meshes incredibly well with Stoller, and he finds a way to bring Stoller’s script to life in such a unique way. The film is visually spectacular throughout, and feels just like Pilkey’s comics. The animation is unique, and we haven’t seen anything quite like it on screen before, with the closest comparison coming from The Peanuts Movies two years ago. Soren’s use of sight gags, mixed with the wonderful dialogue written by Stoller, the movie rarely lets up, always finding a way to charm the audience. Sure, some of the humor is childish and a bit low brow, but the movie does it in a way that’s so charming, it’s hard not to smile and laugh throughout. But even when the film isn’t trying to be funny, it has something to say. The message about letting kids embrace creativity, as well as how far the public school systems have fallen are important things that need to be tackled in the world right now. Soren and Stoller don’t pull back, making the film stronger in the process.
Of course, no Captain Underpants film would be complete without its great cast of characters, and this film doesn’t disappoint at all on that front. Kevin Hart and Thomas Middleditch are fantastic together as the film’s leads, George and Harold. The characters are constantly breaking the fourth wall, talking, and they’re the audience’s eyes and ears into this universe. If you didn’t care about them, the movie would fall apart instantly, but Hart and Middleditch are just wonderful together in their roles. Ed Helms is equally great as their principle, Mr. Krupp, as well as his alter ego, the titular Captain Underpants. The two sides of the character are so different, and many times throughout the film Helms goes back and forth between them within seconds of each other. But Helms never misses a bit, bringing the grouchy, mean principle to life, while also shining as the dumb, but lovable and heroic Captain Underpants. Jordan Peele and Nick Kroll also have small roles in the film that they’re really quite wonderful in. Peele is almost unrecognizable as Melvin, the nemesis to our duo, and Kroll really shines as Professor P., the school’s new science teacher, who also happens to be a super villain.
Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie is an incredibly entertaining, over the top, and at times, gut bustingly funny film with a big heart. The film is manic, much like the classic Looney Toons shorts, always finding a way to put a smile on the audience’s face. With a fantastic script by Nicolas Stoller, a great director in David Soren, and an excellent cast, Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie is going to be one of the summer’s biggest surprises. This is a perfect way to spend a couple hours at the theater, with a big bag of popcorn, on a summer day. Here’s hoping this isn’t the last time we see Captain Underpants, George, and Harold on the big screen, because more adventures with these characters would be very welcome.