"CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS: The First Epic Movie" — 3 stars — Voices of Kevin Hart, Ed Helms, Nick Kroll, Thomas Middleditch, Jordan Peele; PG (mild rude humor throughout); in general release
This summer is looking to be a pretty busy one for family movies with films such as “Cars 3,” “Despicable Me 3,” “The Emoji Movie” and “The Nut Job 2” all set to hit theaters. Meanwhile, DreamWorks is getting a head start on the race with “Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie,” which may end up being the movie that wins the hearts of younger audiences.
The Captain Underpants franchise began 20 years ago when author Dav Pilkey penned and illustrated “The Adventures of Captain Underpants” in 1997. It quickly became a huge hit with middle grade audiences, especially among boys, with its trademark potty humor that successfully pushed the boundaries of what’s appropriate in kids’ books without crossing the line.
Pilkey has now written 12 Captain Underpants books as well as a handful of spin-offs, giving DreamWorks plenty of ammunition after finally acquiring the rights to make the movies. Instead of adapting one specific book, DreamWorks has chosen to include elements of several books, focusing especially on the first, second and fourth.
"Captain Underpants" tells the story of two fourth-grade pranksters named George (Kevin Hart) and Harold (Thomas Middleditch) who have hypnotized their mean principal Mr. Krupp (Ed Helms) into becoming Captain Underpants, a comic book superhero the two friends created in their spare time. After turning their principal into Captain Underpants, the two friends have to figure out how to protect and hide him while also trying to stop the villainous Professor Poopypants (Nick Kroll) as he tries to remove all laughter from the world with his various inventions.
This movie has a multigenerational appeal as young kids will find the nonstop gags hilarious, while their parents will be hit with a dose of nostalgia as they remember laughing at these same jokes when they were young.
While in the past DreamWorks has focused on pleasing adults and kids alike with franchises such as Shrek and Kung Fu Panda, “Captain Underpants” is a different approach as it specifically homes in on entertaining the young crowd. Those expecting Pixar-level entertainment might walk out disappointed.
The film also has messages of laughter and friendship that create a surprisingly heartfelt film. Professor Poopypants wants to take away laughter from the kids because he was laughed at too much growing up and wasn’t able to laugh at himself, and George and Harold are fighting to protect that laughter by relying on their friendship.
For a movie about an adult male wandering around in his underwear fighting a man named Professor Poopypants and his giant toilet, the movie is surprisingly restrained. It sticks with simple, juvenile humor while avoiding the inappropriate adult humor that is often sprinkled, or sometimes dumped, into animated movies these days. Parents should feel at ease about taking their kids to see the movie, especially if they have read the novels.
Also restrained in the movie is lead voice cast Hart. While often eccentric and over the top in his films, this time around Hart is much more toned down, allowing him to fit in well with the rest of the voice cast, including Helms, Kroll and Jordan Peele, who all do a great job of bringing the magic of the books to the screen.
Adults who never grew up reading the books might find "Captain Underpants" too cheesy and juvenile for their taste, but otherwise, this movie should be a great adventure for family audiences.
"Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie" is rated PG for mild rude humor throughout.