Alright, lets get the obvious out of the way.
Yes, I’m a thirty year old man who went to see a Captain Underpants movie.
Yes, I went alone.
Yes, there were a lot of mothers who gave me really dirty looks.
And no, the police were not called.
Based on the first entry in the popular book series by Dav Pilkey, Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie follows two boys on their adventures. George (Kevin Hart) is a storyteller, coming up with all sorts of wacky tales. His best friend, Harold (Thomas Middleditch), is the artist, bringing George’s words to life in a variety of comic books.
Their most popular creation is Captain Underpants, a superhero who (as you might guess) fights crime in his underpants.
But George and Harold’s zeal for life brings them into constant conflict with their headmaster, Mr Krupp (Ed Helms). With their friendship about to be torn apart by his overbearing attitude, the two boys take the only logical course of action: they hypnotise their headmaster into becoming a real-life Captain Underpants (as you do.)
Now the boys must use every skill at their disposal to keep their headmaster in line, while fighting Melvin (Jordan Peele), their 4th grade nemesis; as well as their nefarious physics teacher, Professor Poopypants (Nick Kroll.)
It’s fair to say that Dreamworks Animation don’t have a particularly good track record. Yes, you do get the occasional breakout hit, such as How to Train Your Dragon or Kung Fu Panda. But, more often than not, their films are rather middling compared to their Pixar brethren.
And yet, Captain Underpants manages to bring something special to the silver screen. It’s not going to be winning any awards, but a witty script from Nicholas Stoller and David Soren helps elevate what could have been a rather plodding tale.
But it’s the voices from the cream of Hollywood that truly help the movie shine. While Dreamworks are somewhat infamous for heavily relying on celebrity voice casting; when compared to the utter tragedy of Rihanna voicing a 14 year old girl in their 2015 film Home, Captain Underpants is a dramatic step up.
In Hart and Middleditch, we have two voices perfectly cast in order to bring to life the youthful relationship of the two mischievous leads. With a pun-per-minute rate that would put Airplane to shame, children are guaranteed to be giggling in their seats, while adults guffaw at the abundance of chucklesome lines aimed at older audiences. (George: “Grown ups don’t like-like each other!” Harold: “Your parents are married. You’ve probably never seen it.”)
Similar to what The Peanuts Movie did, Captain Underpants goes to much effort to make sure the animation matches the designs and images that millions of book readers are familiar with. But the film-makers don’t sit on their laurels and rely exclusively on traditional 3D animation. Instead the film sees fit to dive headfirst into a range of animations, such as 2D, flip-book, paper cuts-outs, and even a solid 3 minute sock-puppet sequence. (Not animated sock-puppets, real sock-puppets!)
That said, with a murdering toilet and a plan to rid the world of laughter in the third act, subtlety and logic aren’t quite this film’s strong suits. Indeed, even the reaction of the two boys to the threat of being put in different classes is rather over the top. But as they’re both at the tender age of 10, perhaps it’s merely my solemn adult attitude that prevents me from relating to them. (“Oh no! Long distance relationships never work!”)
In terms of entertaining for the kids and providing jokes for the adults, Captain Underpants comes close to reaching Pixar-levels of joy.
Yes, it does return to the well of toilet-based humour more times than one might expect; and its refusal to adhere to the basis tenets of logic would make Spock himself have a brain aneurysm. But with such smart storytelling that has otherwise been sorely lacking in this summer’s children’s animation, there can only be one question… Does it really matter?