Exceeding expectations, Captain Underpants is one of the best animated films of the year.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Full disclosure: I brought some baggage into my viewing of Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie. The novels, written and illustrated by Dav Pilkey, were some of my favourites growing up, and I was wary of seeing it turn into another The Smurfs or Trolls – nostalgic Trojan horses that take every opportunity to try and sell you songs and cute merchandise. Imagine my surprise then, when Captain Underpants not only avoided those pitfalls, but also demonstrated a genuine love for the original books.
The film follows fourth graders Harold Hutchins (Thomas Middleditch) and George Beard (Kevin Hart), best friends since kindergarten, and creators of the comic book hero Captain Underpants. The boys are phenomenal pranksters, and often butt heads with their humourless and cruel principal, Mr Krupp (Ed Helms). When one of their pranks gets caught on camera, Krupp sentences them to the ultimate punishment: putting them in different classrooms! The duo, cornered in his office, hypnotise him into believing he is the titular Captain. Hilarity ensues as the dim-witted superhero comes to life and causes chaos around town.
Everyone is at the top of their game here. Middleditch and Hart are a winning combination, matching the energy of the film with ease. The boys’ imaginations run wild, but it never feels indulgent or out of place, mostly because of how well Middleditch and Hart sell it. Few films would handle the line “Separate classes lead to separate lives, which inevitably leads to robots!” as well as this one does. Better still is the joyous energy that Nick Kroll brings as the villainous Professor Poopypants. Played with Germanic exuberance, Poopypants is the perfect antagonist for the film, and Kroll clearly relishes the chance to go a little bit mad and steal every scene he can.
That craziness is served well by the superb animation. Unafraid to experiment with numerous styles and ideas, the film brings Harold’s illustrations to life in a way Pilkey could only dream of. Talking toilets and killer robots all pop with layers of polish and love. Purely on a visual level, it’s hard to imagine a better adaptation of the books.
The cherry on top of all of this is that the film never undercuts itself with unnecessary marketing ploys. The studio could’ve easily thrown in a random dance montage set to the latest candy-floss pop song (don’t they all do that now?), but it never sinks that low. It even keeps product placements to a refreshing bare minimum. The film’s highest priority is in presenting Pilkey’s world with love and verve.
Being sceptical of a film like Captain Underpants would be natural – the director’s last film was the brain-numbingly average Turbo – but rest assured the end product is something worth seeing. The colour and energy on display is infectious, and it’s in service to a wonderful story of friendship and imagination. Captain Underpants takes the spirit of Harold and George’s comics and puts it on the big screen, and I don’t think there’s much more you can ask of an adaptation. By the looks of things, we’ll be seeing a sequel or two down the line, and for once I’m pretty happy about that.
Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie is available in Australian cinemas from September 14
Image courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox