Starring (voices): Kevin Hart, Thomas Middleditch, Ed Helms, Nick Kroll, Jordan Peele, Kristen Schaal
Rated PG for Mild Rude Humor Throughout
I read the first few books of the "Captain Underpants" franchise. They were silly, lighthearted and fun. The movie has those same qualities. It's not deep or sophisticated, nor is it intended to be. I mean, come on, with a title like "Captain Underpants," were you really expecting a movie by Lars Von Trier?
George Beard (Hart) and Harold Hutchins (Middleditch) are two best friends who have bonded over pranks and comics. Their greatest creation is an incredibly dim-witted superhero named Captain Underpants, who, not coincidentally, looks like their nemesis, Mr. Krupp (Helms). He's the school principal, who rules the school with an iron fist and cracks down on anything resembling fun or joy in school. When he finally catches the two performing a prank on Melvin (Peele), the school's obnoxious dork, Krupp plans to put the two boys in different classes. In an act of desperation, George tries to hypnotize Mr. Krupp, which to their surprise, totally works. With the snap of their fingers, he becomes Captain Underpants, but when splashed with water, he returns to his usual grumpy self. Having a superhero comes in handy when the new science teacher, Professor Pippy P. Poopypants (Peele) arrives with the goal of eliminating laughter from the face of the Earth.
"Captain Underpants" breaks just about every rule of conventional filmmaking. George and Harold frequently break the fourth wall, they narrate action scenes, and occasionally offer commentary on what's going on. It's not as inventive as "The Lego Movie," but it comes close. The best movies make us wonder where the story will go. "Captain Underpants" does that too, but it also makes us wonder how it will get there.
What truly makes the film work, however, is it appeals to the little kid in us. It knows that its silly and immature. In fact, it celebrates it. Often times, it's the most innocent and easy going comedies that are the best; comedy never works when the people behind it try too hard. That this movie was written by Nicholas Stoller, the man-child behind two of last year's worst comedies, the brain-dead animated flick "Storks" and "Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising" (an atrocity so bad I literally risked my sanity to review it), is shocking. It may be a little long, but it's consistently amusing and contains two scenes that are explosively funny.
The voices are on-target, mainly because they're in on the joke. Kevin Hart and Thomas Middleditch are instantly likable as George and Harold. They have great chemistry and their comic energy is infectious. Ed Helms is unrecognizable as both the grumpy Mr. Krupp and the idealistic but idiotic Captain Underpants. He's having a ball. And Nick Kroll has a lot of fun sending up the mad scientist role.
This movie is meant for little kids, but there's enough stuff that will appeal to adults as well. The themes of failures in our education system are well-presented (surprisingly) and there are a few clever asides that the kids won't get. It will probably play best on Blu Ray, but I'm giving it a solid recommendation because of how daring it is. And that it's actually funny.
On some level, I think that I, a 29 year old college educated film critic, should feel guilty about enjoying something so silly and immature. It's like the Farrelly Brothers for kids: stupid but clever and unapologetically in bad taste. But when you have the principal conducting a group of kids performing the "1812 Overture" with whoopee cushions, well, you can't say no to that.