Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: David Soren
Stars: voices of Kevin Hart, Thomas Middleditch, Ed Helms, Nick Kroll, Jordan Peele, Kristen Schaal, Dee Dee Rescher.
From Dreamworks Animation comes Captain Underpants, the first feature film based on the popular series of children’s books written and illustrated by Dav Pilkey that have apparently sold over 70 million copies worldwide.
It centres around George Beard (voiced by Kevin Hart) and Harold Hutchins (voiced by Thomas Middleditch, from the tv sitcom Silicon Valley, etc), best friends and overly imaginative pranksters at Jerome Horwitz Elementary School. The 4th graders spend most of their time in their tree house drawing comic books featuring their creation, the overly enthusiastic but dim-witted crime fighter Captain Underpants, who is clad in a pair of tighty whiteys and a red cape. Why? Because all great superheroes wear their underpants on the outside.
The boys and their pranks are the bane of the school’s principal, the mean spirited and humourless Krupp (voiced by Ed Helms, from The Hangover trilogy, etc). Krupp has finally gathered enough evidence of their involvement in the pranks to be able to separate the boys into different classes and possibly end their friendship. But George uses a toy 3D hypno-ring which he found in a box of cereal, to hypnotise Krupp and get him to assume the identity of Captain Underpants. He flies around causing chaos and wreaking havoc. But whenever he gets wet he reverts back to Krupp, so the boys have to watch him to ensure he stays out of trouble and doesn’t hurt himself.
All good superheroes need a good supervillain and evil mastermind. The villain of the piece here is the new science teacher Professor P (voiced by Nick Kroll, from Sausage Party, etc), who is driven by revenge and wants to remove all laughter and humour from the world because he has been relentlessly teased because of his funny surname. With the help of his latest gadget, that looks like an outsized toilet, the mad scientist is ready to experiment with the students at Jerome Horwitz Elementary School to perfect his device. He wires his device to the brain of school nerd Melvin Sneedly (voiced by Jordan Peele). Can George, Harold and the eponymous superhero save the day? No real surprises here, but there is a lot of fun to be had along the way with this imaginative, colourful and lively animated tale.
Captain Underpants is pretty silly stuff, but it will entertain younger audiences without condescending to them. Director Daniel Storer (Turbo, etc) keeps things moving along at a quick pace, and the film’s brief 89 minutes fly by. The animation itself is great and highly stylised, and brings Pilkey’s characters to life. Storer has assembled a strong vocal cast, many of whom have plenty of experience with animated films, to also give life to the characters. Hart is normally one of the more irritating and grating actors around, but here he seems a perfect fit for the character of George. Helms is perfect in the dual role of Krupp and the inane Captain Underpants, and he manages to give each character their own distinct personality.
Captain Underpants has been written by Nicholas Stoller, who is better known for his raunchier adult scripts for films like Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Bad Neighbours, etc. But as he showed with The Muppet Movie and last year’s Storks, he can temper his raunchy instincts with some juvenile humour. He captures the appeal of Pilkey’s books here and he crams plenty of juvenile stuff into Captain Underpants. There is a strong streak of off the wall subversive humour running throughout the film, but there is also plenty of toilet humour, physical comedy, and lively slapstick moments. There is also a nice anti-bullying message, which will resonate with the target audience.
Of the three animated kids’ films around for these school holidays, Captain Underpants is clearly superior and the best option for families.