Captain Underpants - to me, those two words invoke an image of a father with underpants on his head pretending to fly around the room in an effort to make his kids laugh. But in the latest children’s animated film ‘Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie’ it’s what happens when two best friends get together to write a comic book - an overweight adult in giant tighty whities and a red cape.
Nicholas Stoller, the man behind ‘Forgetting Sarah Marshall’ and ‘The Muppets’ has continued his prepubescent roll after last year’s hilarious ‘Storks’, and has tackled the hit children’s book series, turned TV show and now feature film - but as a screenwriter only, and sadly it seems he’s losing his touch. Let’s hope its due to the restrictions the source material bind him with and nothing else. Directing duties fell to ‘Turbo’ filmmaker David Soren.
‘Captain Underpants’ is about two best friends - George (Kevin Hart, ‘Central Intelligence’) and Harold (Thomas Middleditch, ‘Silicon Valley). The pair are inseparable and fancy themselves quite the pranksters, much to the torment of their perpetually angry principal Mr Krupp (Ed Helms, ‘The Hangover’). When Mr Krupp threatens to separate the boys they fear for their friendship, and in an effort to stop him they hypnotise Mr Krupp and accidentally turn him into their own creation, Captain Underpants. Like a child hopped up on sugar, Mr Krupp/Captain Underpants proves to be overly excited, unpredictable and out of control. Meanwhile, a new science teacher has joined the faculty. He’s sinister to say the least, and soon the boys discover his plan to experiment on the children and rid the world of laugher.
For an animation it takes itself a little too seriously, yet it’s clearly aimed solely at the younger crowd.
The animation style is whimsical and fantastic - a perfect fit for the story. The film also nicely presents the idea that children’s behaviour isn’t necessarily black or white, good or bad but simply requires perspective, along with a touch of innocence and child-like wonder. George and Harold aren’t bad kids, they’re just seen that way by an unhappy person. However, for an animation it takes itself a little too seriously, yet it’s clearly aimed solely at the younger crowd without any regard for the poor sods who have to pay for the tickets and sit patiently next to their kids who are having the time of their lives.
Last year Stoller presented the perfect blend of children’s and adult filmmaking with ‘Storks’, and afterwards I couldn’t wait for him to do more... but now I’m not so sure. Clearly without free rein, Stoller’s comedic prowess has been stifled to say the least. For laughs, ‘Captain Underpants’ relies on little more than bottom jokes and whatever humour can be derived from a grown man running around in white knickers.
‘Captain Underpants’ is cute but too juvenile to please everyone, nor a moral touchstone to anchor it as a must-see or to simply elevate it as a good film.