With a title like Captain Underpants, it’s useless to expect high-brow humor driven by nuance and subtlety. But the dozen-deep book series by Dav Pelkey is surprisingly clever and is actually among the limited batch of reading material that never made me cringe whenever my children asked me to read it to them for the hundredth time.
Fortunately the movie follows suit, providing a wild-and-crazy 90 minutes of kid-friendly entertainment. Sure it’s as hyper-kinetic as a kindergarten class on the last day of school after a sugar-fueled snack break, but it’s also got more than enough to please the parents in the crowd…assuming you’re down with juvenile humor that trumpets everything from snot to whoopee cushions.
Fourth-graders Harold (voiced by Thomas Middleditch) and George (Kevin Hart), as those familiar with the series are well aware, are the class trouble-makers, always pulling pranks and causing endless mayhem at Jerome Horowitz Elementary. And when they’re not taking pride in their mischief or planning their next disruptive escapade, the boys spend their free time making comic books starring their superhero creation, Captain Underpants.
After they get caught sabotaging the Turbo Toilet 2000, the science fair project of class do-gooder Melvin Sneedly (Jordan Peele), the boys are called to the office of Principal Krupp (Ed Helms), who now has all the evidence he needs to finally give the boys their comeuppance. He decrees that Harold and George are to be reassigned to separate classrooms in his attempt to sever their friendship once and for all.
The boys, though, have a different idea and successfully hypnotize the big guy with their super-cool 3D Hypno Ring, causing him to turn into Captain Underpants whenever they snap their fingers (and change back whenever he’s splashed with water).
Enter Professor Pee-Pee Diarrheastein Poopypants (Nick Kroll), a shadowy German scientist whose sole mission in life is to abolish all laughter in the world. He teams up with Melvin, mutating the Turbo Toilet into a ten-stories-tall anthropomorphic commode, so he can turn all the kids into mirthless zombies. Will Captain Underpants arrive in time? Can George and Harold escape the evil clutched of Professor Poopypants? And what kind of parents do you have to be to name your kid Pee-Pee?
In the capable hands of screenwriter Nicholas Stoller (The Five-Year Engagement, Get Him to the Greek), Captain Underpants retains all of the invention and wit of the books (including the famous Flip-o-Rama sequences) while also providing an admirable balance of fart jokes and downright clever comedy.
As for director David Soren (Turbo), he throws everything but the kitchen sink into Captain Underpants and creates a film that takes the black-and-white of the written word and turns it into the fourth-grade boys’ equivalent of a manic pixie dream girl. There may be all of thirty seconds in the entire movie when there aren’t a thousand different things happening at once, whether it’s a barrage of toilet paper rolls flying at your head or a six-foot-tall lip balm tubes hurtling through the air.
The pace is frenetic and non-stop, but the jokes come at you just as fast, too, and the vast majority of them hit their mark. Captain Underpants is as loud and big and crazy as any movie you’ve seen lately, and if you can catch your breath at any point, you’ll no doubt realize that you’re having a pretty darn good time…Pee-Pee and all.
Worth the 3D glasses?
If your brain can handle it, sure. Absolutely, even. But I’m not kidding about the toilet paper flying at your face. That’s some pretty wacky stuff.