**1/2 out of ****
(for mild rude humor throughout)
Released: June 2, 2017
Runtime: 89 minutes
Director: David Soren
Starring: the voices of Kevin Hart, Thomas Middleditch, Ed Helms, Nick Kroll, Jordan Peele, Kristen Schaal
Low-brow humor with a sweet spirit, Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie is age appropriate silliness with its heart in the right place.
Adult mileage will vary (yet will go longer than most might expect; Kevin Hart sure helps), but for kids under double-digit age this will have them Tra-La-LAAAAAAing all the way through and on the way home.
Based on the popular series of kids books, this first animated feature adaptation adheres faithfully to its origins. George and Harold (Kevin Hart and Thomas Middleditch) are a prank-pulling grade school BFF duo with a passion for making goofy comic books in their treehouse fortress.
They get more than they bargained for when they hypnotize their mean, authoritarian principal Mr. Krupp (Ed Helms) to become their favorite creation of all: Captain Underpants, a dim-witted superhero who dons only a cape and a pair of tighty-whiteys.
The fallout includes the rise of the maniacal Professor Poopypants. He’s the film’s highlight, voiced by a hilariously unhinged Nick Kroll (his studio sessions must’ve been a blast).
The movie initially wins us over right from the start, and even during its DreamWorks intro vanity slate. The animation has a vibrancy of its own, author/illustrator Dav Pilkey’s 2D drawings are cutely rendered into 3D space, and it all follows a brisk pace that, thankfully, never kicks into obnoxiously manic overdrive.
It also sticks strictly to Pilkey’s specific brand of potty humor – farts, burps, and pee jokes, oh my! – without desperately expanding into DreamWorks’ tired go-to of pop culture references.
Plus, having been made for a mere $38 million, Captain Underpants may boast the best look-to-cost ratio of any studio animated feature of the 21st Century.
The style and tone remains consistent, but for a 90-minute movie that can grow monotonous for anyone over 10 without a nostalgic attachment to the source. Laughs become increasingly, er, brief for grownups, but the harmless scatology should keep most kiddie giggles flowing like diarrhea (sorry, now it’s got me doing it).
Despite a premise of disobedient/disrespectful pranking, the opposition between kids and adults here feels more like cathartic hijinks for the littles, not anything intended to subvert authority. Think of it as Ferris Bueller for tykes.
More importantly, with the relationship between George and Harold, Captain Underpants goes beyond the broad importance of friends sticking together (a common theme in kid entertainment) to explore the specific value of friends creating together. This focus will spur imagination, and the desire to imagine, by showing the bond that creativity can forge.
Really, the only long term problem that Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie might create is that awkward moment-of-truth when it’s time to choose this year’s Halloween costume. But then, for any kid who can convince his parents to let him dress up as this singular Fruit of the Loom hero and then scour their neighborhood for candy, my hunch is it’d be a victory that both George and Harold would take pride in, with doubled-over laughter.