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Captain Underpants – Movie Review

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Captain Underpants – Movie Review

Rating: B+ (Very Good)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy 20th Century Fox

When Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants books were unleashed in 1997, parents were instantly disgusted at the whole idea. Yet children delighted at the low-brow adventures of this undie-wearing superhero. There was a charm to those books and director David Soren has lovingly brought them to the screen in this film adaptation, which combines the first four tales. Yet there is a sweetness there and while Captain Underpants does have an emphasis on gags about poop and whoopee cushions, it never ventures into mean spirited or gross territory. This is the sort of film that will find a large audience of eight year olds and those who devoured the books at that age.

Soren and credited screenwriter Nicholas Stoller give Captain Underpants a fast-paced energy and animation style perfectly in keeping with the books. The film embraces its cartoony premise and look, which gives it an instantly endearing quality. George and Harold feel like genuine live-long friends with their love for potty jokes and creating stories and the script embraces that. Captain Underpants throws in all sorts of humour, ranging from scatological to physical. The fourth wall breaking gives the film a further edge, with a sequence utilising the books’ famed “Flip-O-Rama” technique showing precisely how much care the filmmakers took in adapting Pilkey’s material.

Thomas Middleditch and Kevin Hart bounce off each other exceptionally well and make for believably mischievous children. Nick Kroll registers plenty of laughs as the villainous Professor Poopypants, affecting a mock German accent for the role. Ed Helms is able to bounce between the grumpy Principal Krupp and the cheerful Captain Underpants with ease. The script’s most surprising quality is how much it develops Krupp beyond the evil principal role. There is a real attempt to show another side to the character, which also helps in giving George and Harold an arc. The two boys learn quite a few lessons along the way, but the film never beat these messages over the viewer’s head.

The art style is another recent example of computer animation embracing an aesthetic beyond the photo-real look. The easy comparison to make is to Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, which similarly went for a simple style and squash-and-stretch approach to its characters. The world created on screen by DreamWorks Animation and Mikros Image looks a lot like Dav Pilkey’s on the page, but enhanced and made more cinematic. The colour is used lovingly and the animators are able to make even basic facial expressions hilarious. Captain Underpants, of course, gets the most exaggerated movements and the filmmakers get a lot of mileage out of him frequently switching between his two personalities. And “Flip-O-Rama” isn’t the only fun visual element Soren utilises in the film.

Captain Underpants is hardly a groundbreaking film in terms of story structure or even humour. However, there is a constant joy that radiates off the screen. It has a message about the importance of laughter, but also realising there are consequences to one’s actions and this fits nicely with the adventure being told. Captain Underpants embraces the silliness of its source material, while taking the characters in new directions that respect the foundation laid down by Dav Pilkey. The jokes frequently land and for a film where the villain has the name Poopypants, the comedy never becomes lowest common denominator stupid. When a film has a Weird Al Yankovic song with lyrics about boxer shorts and egg salad sandwiches, it’s hard not to smile.

 

Stefan Ellison
THE SCENE


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