Until very recently I thought “The LEGO Movie” and its spinoff “The LEGO Batman Movie” were the most frenetic animated movies I’d ever seen. But a certain superhero origin story, based on books that grade school kids have cherished for two decades, now assumes that title. “Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie” is extremely fast-paced, wild, outrageous, completely absurd and most of all… highly entertaining.
This film could have been titled “Captain Underpants: Revenge of the Students”. When I spoke with director David Soren he told me he once pulled a major prank on his high school principal (the two never saw eye-to-eye). It’s as if Soren, writer Nicholas Stoller and the rest of the creative team intentionally crafted this story as light-hearted payback for the years they spent in the education system.
My K-12 days are over, but it didn’t take long for memories to come rushing back as 4th-graders George and Harold introduce us to the agony that is life at Jerome Horowitz Elementary School, which prides itself in stifling students’ imaginations. The satirical jabs are so spot-on that I laughed-out loud way more than I anticipated, particularly during the opening half-hour. Kevin Hart and “Silicon Valley” star Thomas Middleditch voice George and Harold, best friends and next-door neighbors who love to pull pranks and just flat-out laugh.
If George was running for Class President (and had Harold as his running mate) his slogan would probably be something he says during a rare, relatively quiet scene: “Make School Fun Again”. Their dialogue exchanges, along with the facial expressions and body language of all the students, are both spot-on and hilarious.
When their extremely strict principal Mr. Krupp (Ed Helms) threatens to put George and Harold in separate classes (and believe me, that can be more troubling than you might first think), they decide to hypnotize Krupp – using a red ring from a cereal box – and turn him into their own comic book character – The Amazing Captain Underpants.
And magically – Krupp actually becomes their cartoon creation, complete with his signature catchphrase, “Tra-La-LAAAA!” George and Harold don’t quite know what to do with a grown man running around town in tighty whiteys. As the story shifts attention towards a new science teacher with his own agenda for the students (and his prodigy in the form of the biggest know-it-all/suck-up on Planet Earth), “Captain Underpants” becomes a classic tale of Good vs. Evil.
But in a movie with whoopee cushion gags, kids driving a crane, and a half-naked man “saving” civilians, how could evil possibly triumph?
Even though this movie is called “Captain Underpants”, this is George and Harold’s story. We actually don’t get a lot of Captain Underpants in his Captain Underpants attire, certainly not at the level that the trailers, commercials and posters suggest. George and Harold narrate the majority of the movie, often talking directly to the audience – mid-scene. And this is just one of the ways “Captain Underpants” breaks all the rules of moviemaking. This film travels in multiple dimensions of fantasy… simultaneously… and not only features vivid CGI, but also hand-drawn animation and…(wait for it) even sock puppets.
There are a host of original songs incorporated. The three best focus on the importance of Saturdays, the power of friendship, and there’s a ode to Captain Underpants himself – performed as only Weird Al Yankovic can.
Is “Captain Underpants” a little too much to handle on occasions? Absolutely. Will kids be just as exhausted as their parents and grandparents when it’s over? Without question. There’s a scene in which tons of sugar are poured directly into the mouths of the overjoyed boys. This is exactly how you will feel as the credits start to roll.
But there’s no denying, in being both daring/fearless and silly/wacky, “Captain Underpants” is XXXL entertainment.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie” gets a B+.
Running Time: 89 min.