While being as silly as its title suggests, animation film “Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie” is often quite funny as gleefully and knowingly embracing its sheer goofiness. When I watched its trailer early in this year, I thought it was just another passable animation film to be consumed and then forgotten by its target audiences, but then it received a considerable amount of positive reviews when it was released in US during this summer, and now I am happy to report that it gave me lots of laughs and chuckles during my belated viewing.
The film begins with the cheerfully crude animation opening sequence which shows the latest comic book character created by its two young heroes: George Beard (voiced by Kevin Hart) and Harold Hutchins (voiced by Thomas Middleditch). Whenever they can have a free time together, these two elementary school kids wield their boundless sense of humor and imagination through comic books they make together, and their latest story is about Captain Underpants, a superhero who wears nothing but a cape and, yes, underpants.
While they are not focusing on their comic books, Geroge and Harold usually plan small and big pranks to be committed at their school, and, not so surprisingly, they have been a constant source of annoyance to Mr. Krupp (voiced by Ed Helms), the mean-spirited principal of their school who has frequently made his students and teachers miserable. At one point, he announces an impromptu school event to be held on Saturday, and everyone is understandably depressed except Melvin Sneedly (voiced by Jordan Peele), a literally nerdy and humorless student who is willing to do anything for more score (Confession: he reminds me of my younger self…. a bit).
Anyway, our young heroes cannot resist the chance for another prank as nearly everyone becomes quite bored during that tedious school event, so they instantly go for that with considerable satisfaction, but, alas, Mr. Krupp has some surprise for them. He obtains an undeniable piece of evidence against them, and now he can do something he has wished to do for a long time.
Out of desperation, Harold and George attempt a rather absurd thing, and, to their surprise, it works a lot more than expected. Using his red toy ring, George somehow manages to hypnotize Mr. Krupp successfully, and that enables them to put him under their control. After a few trials, they decide to make him believe that he is Captain Underpants, and, to their delight, Mr. Krupp instantly talks and behaves like their beloved superhero.
Of course, the situation soon becomes messy and complicated for our young heroes as Mr. Krupp/Captain Underpants zealously bounces around here and there, and the film throws lots of gags and slapsticks into the plot as required. While it often feels a little too frantic, the movie keeps holding our attention with its brisk energy and nice comic timing, and that is exemplified well by a loony action sequence in which our young heroes busily try to save Mr. Krupp/Captain Underpants from many potential dangers to which he is incorrigibly oblivious.
And the story is actually sweet and sincere at times. Based on Dav Pilkey’s popular children’s book series of the same name, the screenplay by Nicholas Stoller understands well how important friendship is for young kids like George and Harold, and that aspect is humorously reflected by a hilarious scene showing their imagined future without friendship. While mainly functioning as an unwitting target for numerous moments of broad comedy, Mr. Krupp is depicted with some human quality nonetheless, and Captain Underpants comes to look more like his better side hidden behind his cranky appearance.
Meanwhile, there comes a villain later in the story. When he begins his first day at the school as a new science teacher, he presents himself as Professor P (voiced by Nick Kroll), but it turns out that there is a good reason why he does not reveal his real name to his students. I do not dare to reveal it here, but I can guarantee to you instead that you will get plenty of laughs when it is eventually revealed to everyone in the school.
Anyway, Professor P comes to concoct a diabolical plan for eradicating the origin of his longtime grudge, so the movie eventually serves us your typical climatic action sequence, but the film thankfully does not lose its sense of fun even at that point. While it does not exceed our expectation, we still get laughs as before, and we come to cheer for not only our young heroes but also their dimwitted superhero.
The voice cast of the film are solid in their respective roles. While Kevin Hart and Thomas Middleditch bring mischievous spirit to their respective characters, Ed Helms has lots of fun especially when his character rapidly switches back and forth between himself and his alter ego, and Nick Kroll virtually chews his every moment in his delightfully exaggerated voice performance, which is indubitably the best thing in the film.
“Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie” is directed by David Soren, who previously directed “Turbo” (2013). He did a better job here in this film, and it is a shame that the film did not do well at the US Box office compared to “Cars 3” (2017) and “Despicable Me 3” (2017), which are, in my trivial opinion, less funny and exciting in comparison. To be frank with you, this is one of the funniest films of this year, and I hope there will be a sequel someday.