Sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry! While I could annoy you with excuses reasons as to why it took me over 2 weeks to publish a review (like realizing that the seats at my new AMC get booked really fast), that would be weak and unprofessional. Instead, I’ll talk about my firsthand exposure to the horror of… pre-movie commercials! I drastically overestimated how long it would take me to get to this matinee, so I had about 40 minutes of filler to sit though before the movie actually started. Now, I’m not talking about the trailers for movies that will play in a theater, I’m talking about those ads that air when you’re taking a pee-break from PBS. Lo and behold, I’m stuck in a scratchy chair, without the use of my phone because I ran out of data, and the commercials are unbearably generic. All except for the one where I got to see Mark Wahlberg talk to Gumball Waterson. That was fun. Once the nightmares concluded, I could finally be treated to one of the most potentially-abhorrent adaptations of all time. Let’s begin.
Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie is directed by David Soren and written by Nicholas Stoller and David Soren. Stars: Thomas Middleditch, Kevin Hart, Ed Helms, and Jordan Peele. Premise-The lives of two joke-making schoolkids are forever changed when they hypnotize their mean principal into becoming Captain Underpants (a superhero the boys created for their comics).
Remember when Blue Sky Studios released The Peanuts Movie 2 years ago? It was an adaptation of a classic source material meant for children, animated in energetic 3D, everyone thought it would suck, and by a miracle from heaven, it was actually good. Well, DreamWorks seems to have taken a few notes from the most forgettable animation company of modern time and the result is a thoroughly passable venture. I love Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants novels. Clever humor, satirical storytelling, and a thorough understanding of the spirit of childhood. When I first heard the mere idea of a film adaptation, I could not fathom how they could stretch the stories into 90 minutes. Then again, The Peanuts Movie did it right, let’s see how Captain Underpants accomplished this.
The first thing I must praise is the voice-acting. While Middleditch sounds way too old to voice a 9 year old (Harold), Kevin Hart actually changed his voice for this role (unlike in Secret Life of Pets). Also, Jordan Peele is excellent (he voices a white kid, and I couldn’t tell it was him), and Ed Helms’s energy as the hero is impossible to resist. What’s better is that the animation brings each of these characters to life. You guys know I’m not that big a fan of 3D, but its best uses are with adaptions like Wreck-It Ralph, The Peanuts Movie, The Angry Birds Movie. The character designs are perfect, and the fast-paced writing allows for some entertaining slapstick and visual gags.
When it comes to the story… eh, it’s hard to talk about. In regards to my question about how they could get 90 minutes out of a book with less than 150 pages, the writers attempted to combine the first, second, and fourth novels. I say attempted, because the narrative is very disjointed. If you never read the books, it’ll be less distracting, but certain scenes felt out of leftfield. There are also a few terribly-sung musical numbers (I get the point, but Middleditch can’t sing), and there are a few clichés that grate on you. Despite this, the writing is actually more intelligent than you’d expect. This movie has an unholy amount of self-awareness. There are just as many jokes for adults as there are for the kids. And by “adult jokes” I don’t mean gross sex puns, or obnoxious stereotypes (the ones that made The Angry Birds Movie so unfunny), I mean self-referential humor that pokes fun at clichés of the genre. Obviously, this wasn’t done as well as say, The Lego Batman Movie, but it is no less appreciated here. Above all, the show knows it’s for kids. There are a few fourth wall jokes here and there when the characters talk directly to the kids in the audience. Wouldn’t you know it; the children in the theater loved it.
Alright, another one bites the dust. I hope you enjoyed this review, because I recommend it to anyone with kids or fond memories of the novels. Heck, I wrote a book report on this series a few years back, and I can comfortably say that I enjoyed watching an animated, middle-aged man parade around in his underpants for 90 minutes. More reviews coming soon! Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie gets Guy’s Guru Grade of a B.