Growing up, I was an enormous fan of the Captain Underpants books by author Dav Pilkey. Their unique brand of wit, humor, and creativity (e.g., allowing the reader to employ primitive animation in the books through a technique hilariously referred to as Flip-O-Rama) really struck a chord with me. And while I have long since aged out of the target demographic for this series, I proudly admit that I still go back and read some of these books from time to time, such is their lasting appeal. When I heard a movie based on the series was being released, I was definitely curious about how it would turn out. Would it be faithful to its source material, or just another generic kids animated film using the brand?
I am happy to say that I was very pleasantly surprised by Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie. Here is a film that completely captures the essence of the books, providing us a witty, humorous, and throughly imaginative experience that reminded me why I loved this series as a kid.
Everything that was great about the books is present in this movie. The art style; the tone; the wacky, insightful, and, at times, self-referential humor; it’s all here and accounted for. Surprisingly, they even managed to work Flip-O-Rama into the picture, which was great. Furthermore, the filmmakers took advantage of the medium of film to give us new gags that would never have been possible through the book, and they are a welcome addition. It all works to make the film hilarious and entertaining throughout.
Story-wise, the picture is something of an amalgamation of the more popular ideas from the first few books. Fusing elements from different pieces admittedly makes it a touch messy (though wonderfully coherent storytelling isn’t exactly a hallmark of Captain Underpants); but it works all the same as something of a highlight reel for the best of what was in the books. And dare I say that they even managed to include a bit of genuine emotional content into the film, which, again is terrific.
Also, the voice actors for the film deserve some special recognition. The cast, including Kevin Hart, Ed Helms, Thomas Middleditch, Jordan Peele (yes, the same Jordan Peele who directed Get Out), and Nick Kroll all bring wonderful energy to their performances, and their enthusiasm shines through. Moreover, not only do they help make their respective characters come to life, but they make them sound exactly as they should (or at least how I always imagined these characters would sound), something that doesn’t always happen in adaptions.
This is all another way of saying that Captain Underpants: The First Epic movie is just about the best possible version of a Captain Underpants film that we ever could have hoped to have gotten. The filmmakers really out did themselves on this. I am very happy to have seen this movie, and I recommend checking it out if you had a fondness for the books or have children that do. It’s a very enjoyable little film.
Lastly, I think we should take note of this particular weekend. We have two great superhero movies — this and Wonder Woman — opening at the exact same time, something which, to my knowledge, has never happened before and, given the nature of the movie industry, may never happen again. This is a historic moment, folks, and remember: you can be part of that history by seeing both of these films now.*
*I apologize. I’m a bit giddy this evening.