This IS the Animated Version of the Classic Books.. For Better or Worse
I’ll come right out with it on this one- your love or disdain for this film will depend almost entirely upon your appreciation (or lack thereof) of the source material upon which it is based. Dav Pilkey’s immensely popular series of low brow comedic children’s novels of the same name aren’t only the inspiration for this piece, they literally ARE this piece. To DreamWorks’ credit, the art style, potty humor, meandering and sloppy plotting of the books are all duplicated here fastidiously. For better or for worse.
2017’s Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie was built upon a modest (for DreamWorks) budget of $38-million. In fact it boasts the distinction of being the least expensive computer generated animated film in DreamWorks’ history. As such the relatively low gross of $125m worldwide still leaves this one in profitable territory. It also boasts the distinction of being the final DreamWorks production distributed by 20th Century Fox.
The story, or what passes for one anyway, tells of two imaginative elementary school pranksters named George Beard and Harold Hutchins (voiced by Kevin Hart and Thomas Middleditch) who hypnotize their grumpy principal, Mr. Krupp (voiced by Ed Helms), into thinking he is Captain Underpants, a superhero who fights crime wearing only tighty whities and a cape, who just so happens to be the main protagonist of George and Harold’s comic books.
Jerome Horwitz Elementary School, where the two lead characters happen to attend, is visited by a German-accented scientist named Professor Pee-Pee Diarrheastein Poopypants, Esq. (Nick Kroll), or as he calls himself for short; Professor P.
Captain Underpants (disguised as Mr. Krupp) hires him to be the school’s new science teacher. As it turns out, Poopypants is seeking to rid the world of laughter on account of the fact that people have made fun of his name for years. He plans to accomplish this by turning toilets into man-eaters and, oh it’s not even really important. Attempting to summarize this plot is nearly as foolish an ambition as is enduring it. The greater point here is the film’s narrative has been lifted from the books: hook, line and stinker.
So what’s the experience of actually investing the 89-minutes required to watch the film in its entirety like? As an adult, it’s pretty rough. Not to suggest that the gags comprising most modern animated films are sophisticated per se, expect an entirely new level of potty humor meets slapstick with Captain Underpants (in the event that the title threw you off).
To its credit, the film is about as close to being an animated version of the books upon which its based as I’ve yet to encounter. The bad news is that it includes a very sloppy sense of plot. Even if this were a genuinely plot-driven tale, the character narration directly into the camera and hobbled-together juxtaposition of segments really makes this feel as if it were edited by a couple of elementary school kids. And again, if that’s what the producers were aiming for here; nailed it.
When I view a CG animated feature, I typically expect it to provide silliness and simplistic gags to keep the younger audience for which it’s intended amused while simultaneously offering a bit of more subtle humor that the adults who typically accompany the kids to these affairs can enjoy as well. DreamWorks, in my opinion, are the absolute masters of this unique blend of funny-bone tickling. Unfortunately, Captain Underpants’ reliance upon the source material pretty much limits the plot, humor, visual appeal and sensibilities to the younger end of the spectrum.
In conclusion, if your kid or even the inner kid in you happens to be a fan of Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants books (or the countless spin-offs they’ve inspired), this is the film for which you’ve waited. These guys captured even the smallest detail of the world Pilkey has created. If, on the other hand, you are considering it simply because it’s a DreamWorks animated feature and you enjoy their brand of humor, this may be one to skip. Not to suggest it’s a total turd but, on second thought, why not? That’s exactly how Harold and George would have wanted it.