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DreamWorks Countdown 35: ‘Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie’

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Before the first trailer was released, were you excited for Captain Underpants? If you were, then congratulations. You are part of an elite class!

Maybe it was just my experience, but it seems as if the animation community had it out for Captain Underpants before the film hit theaters. It’s not difficult to see why. Even for those who enjoyed Dav Pilkey’s books (myself among them), it was easy to see how the property could have been ruined. While us here at the RotoWebsite understand that animation isn’t only for kids, many of the execs at animation studios feel the opposite. One look at the title, and many animation fans assumed that Captain Underpants would be a stupid movie with lots of poop and fart jokes.

As it turns out, those fears were unfounded. Were there poop and fart jokes? Yes. Was the movie stupid? Actually, no! In fact, Captain Underpants became a charming, funny little film, full of bold storytelling and animation choices. Let’s talk about ’em!

As the film opens, we meet George Beard (Kevin Hart) and Harold Hutchins (Thomas Middleditch), two grade school kids who happen to be best friends. They revel in pulling elaborate pranks and writing/drawing comic books, particularly about their superhero Captain Underpants. Unfortunately, George and Harold’s pranks have put them directly in the path of grumpy Principal Krupp (Ed Helms), who is determined to put the two friends’ reign of jokes to an end.

After a flashy prank at an assembly, Krupp announces that he plans to place George and Harold in separate classes, something that terrifies the two buddies. In a last-ditch effort to thwart the principal’s plans, George digs a plastic hypno ring out of a cereal box and “pretends” to hypnotize Krupp. Much to George and Harold’s surprise, however, the ring actually works! While toying with their entranced principal, the friends hypnotize Krupp into thinking he’s Captain Underpants. The ploy is hilarious… until the Captain bursts through the window and takes to the streets. The boys pursue him and eventually get him home.

Eventually, the boys decide that having their principal under their control can be used to their advantage, if they can keep the superhero hypnosis a secret. The boys set out to keep their superhero principal under control. Meanwhile, however, the mad (and evil) scientist Professor Poopypants (Nick Kroll) comes to town with a plan to neutralize the world’s sense of humor after people won’t stop laughing at his name.

The film’s theme is all about learning to laugh at life and oneself, and that informs every decision the script makes. Both George and Harold are identified by strong senses of humor. With every prank they pull and joke they tell, they bring joy to the drab, monochromatic school that Principal Krupp has created. On the flip side, both Krupp and Poopypants have trouble laughing at themselves and the world around them. In Poopypants’s case, his lack of humor is so severe that it leads him to become a super villain straight from a James Bond movie. Krupp’s Captain Underpants alter ego allows his sense of good cheer to come out, while Poopypants… but I’m not going to give away the ending!

The message about humor also extends to the story itself, which absolutely refuses to take itself seriously – and that’s a good thing! This is a movie that repeatedly breaks the fourth wall, with George and Harold pausing the film to make comments on the editing, the price of an action sequence, or even trying to end the movie early. Heck, this is an animated film that includes a FLIP BOOK sequence. Obviously, this is not a film that takes itself seriously!

Speaking of that flip book sequence, let’s talk about the animation styles, which also stick with the loose, funny vibe of the film. The core animation mode – the CG animation – looks hand-drawn, much the way The Peanuts Movie did. However, unlike PeanutsCaptain Underpants uses the hand-drawn style to depict zany, wild humor with a ’50s vibe. However, Captain Underpants also likes to indulge in different styles of animation, like crude pencil drawings, UPA-esque animation that looks like it could have come from an old health class filmstrip, and even a live-action sock puppet sequence that manage to mix The Terminator with Dawn of the Dead. Like the story structure, the varied animation styles indicate that this film is gonna do anything to get you laughing!

Captain Underpants‘ blatant silliness extends to the voice acting, as well. Kevin Hart and Thomas Middleditch do a good job as George and Harold, but, honestly, I think they’re the least remarkable actors in the film. There’s some STELLAR work done by the other cast members, though! Ed Helms deftly handles his dual role, creating two separate and distinct voices: a harried, angry voice for Principal Krupp and an over-the-top heroic tone for Captain Underpants.

However, my two favorite voices come from the two villains in the film: Professor Poopypants and humorless nerd Melvin Sneedly. I admit that I found Melvin’s voice acting unremarkable – until I learned it was Jordan Peele voicing him. Peele does an amazing job! In fact, he’s so good that it’s impossible to tell it’s him just by watching the film. However, my favorite performance of the film DEFINITELY has to be Nick Kroll as Professor Poopypants. Of all the actors in the film, Kroll seems to have embraced the silliness the most, affecting an over-the-top German accent to his already hilarious lines. That voice makes every one of Poopypants’s lines at least twice as funny!

Captain Underpants is probably the silliest movie to come out of 2017 – and it proudly wears that honor. From beginning to end, it throws everything, including the kitchen sink, at the audience, trying to illicit laughs. It totally works, too! I was charmed by Captain Underpants from beginning to end, and I came out of the film feeling uplifted, happy, and determined to look at the world with a humorous eye. It’s definitely one of DreamWorks Animation’s best comedies!

Edited by: Hannah Wilkes

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About AJ Howell

AJ's love of movies began when his mom took him to see The Lion King on a warm California day in 1994. He left the theater with his mind blown and with a strong desire to become a filmmaker. AJ's fascinated with films of all kinds, but animated films have always held a special place in his heart, particularly Disney animation, the work of Chuck Jones, and Bill Melendez and Lee Mendelson's Peanuts specials. His favorite animated films include (but aren't limited to) Frozen, Beauty And The Beast, Surf's Up, The Bugs Bunny/RoadRunner Movie, and Toy Story 3. Along with films, AJ also loves pop and rock music, hiking, the beach, comic books, traveling, writing, acting, and baseball.