CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS review by Patrick Hendrickson – don’t laugh at him, laugh with him

CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS review by Patrick Hendrickson – don’t laugh at him, laugh with him

Captain Underpants is the latest animated production from DreamWorks which tells the story of a few elementary kids and their favorite superhero named “Captain Underpants.” The movie is based off a long-running series of children’s books with this being the first film adaptation of that material. Its main characters are George and Harold, two rambunctious elementary school students who spend their time pulling pranks, hanging out in their tree-house, and drawing comic books starring their very own superhero, the eponymous Captain Underpants. George and Harold are voiced by Kevin Hart and Thomas Middleditch respectively, and both do a terrific job in their roles.

The boys are in constant conflict with their principal, Mr. Krupp, who runs his school with an iron-fist and who does not take kindly to the pranksters at all. Fed-up with the boys and their antics, Krupp threatens to split them into different classes. George and Harold quickly come up with a scheme to keep this from happening, and in a last ditch effort end up unwittingly hypnotizing Krupp into thinking that he is Captain Underpants. Ed Helms voices Mr. Krupp/Captain Underpants and does a great job with both personas. His performance is probably the strongest out of all because he must portray two personalities that are entirely unalike each other. Once Mr. Krupp has been hypnotized, George and Harold realize that if he gets water splashed on his face the hypnotism wears off and he returns to being Mr. Krupp. Captain Underpants then returns with one snap of their fingers and so they end up having to walk a fine line of keeping the Captain in check whilst keeping Mr. Krupp from severing their friendship.

Captain Underpants is certainly more fun to have around, but his heroic personality quickly leads to some awkward situations that the boys have to fix. Mr. Krupp is unpleasant, but the boys realize early on that they can’t keep this up forever and that eventually they will have to allow Krupp to be himself. There are two antagonists in the film in the form of Melvin, a snotty and humorless classmate of George and Harold voiced by Jordan Peele, and the mysterious Professor P who is a mad scientist that takes a job at the school as a science teacher. Professor P has the goal of destroying all laughter due to being a laughingstock for reasons revealed midway through movie. Nick Kroll portrays the Professor and as with the other voice actors in the film does a fantastic job.

As always with DreamWorks, the animation is brilliantly done. The movie switches formats a few different times from the typical CG animation, to more traditional drawing, and even a brief scene with sock puppets. This is certainly an interesting touch, even if the majority of the film is the traditional CG animation. I have never read any of the Captain Underpants books so I cannot say how accurate this movie is to the source material. As an outsider looking in, I found the film to be very enjoyable. So at the very least I can say that this production is open to those that are unfamiliar with the books.

The story moves at a relentlessly fast pace with joke after joke coming in quick succession. Being that the movie is less than an hour and a half long, I would say this is a point in its favor because there is not a lot of time to spare and the filmmakers seem to cram as many jokes in as possible and rarely do any jokes fall flat. This also helps to keep the audience’s attention because there are not any scenes that drag and the climax approaches very quickly. There are a few moments of subtle social commentary throughout the movie that adults and even children can relate to. One running gag involves is what goes on in the classrooms of the school. Monotone teachers ramble on about memorizing dates and other information while the school’s art program is completely dead. The villain even makes a very blatant jab about the lack of importance that society places on education. Kids seeing this could very easily identify with the awful experience that some teachers leave them with.

More social commentary comes from the villain’s motivation for wanting to destroy all laughter. He’s been the butt of numerous jokes and simply cannot take it anymore. The implied message being that sometimes jokes can hurt. This is another message I am sure that kids could probably relate to and parents could hopefully try to build on so their own kids don’t end up hurting each other’s feelings. There is even a bit of nuance to this because George and Harold make the point that the Professor should learn to laugh at himself and not take himself so seriously. I would say that it’s important for kids to learn these kinds of things and that this movie does a good job of opening the door for them whilst also keeping a fun tone throughout. Even Mr. Krupp’s misanthropy is revealed to be because of his own lonely and joyless life and by the end of it George and Harold end up helping him start down a happier path. This keeps Mr. Krupp from being totally unlikable as a character even in his regular persona, and it makes the boys seem all the more kind-hearted when they help him out.

The biggest issue the film has is that Captain Underpants feels somewhat neglected. Most of the movie is spent on George and Harold having their fun with Captain Underpants in disguise as Mr. Krupp. There are very few moments of actual heroism from the superhero. The reason for this is because Captain Underpants’ hypnotization does not actually grant him any powers, but even then there could have been more scenes of him bumbling around trying to be a hero. This issue is resolved by the end of the climax, but does cause some slight disappointment during the earlier parts of the movie. There is a minor subplot involving a love interest for Mr. Krupp in the form of the school lunch lady, Edith, who is voiced by Kristen Schaal. This is another neglected piece of the movie as it is not explored very much at all. This character and subplot could have been cut from the final edit entirely and nothing would have been lost. Edith and Krupp do have some tender moments together and it certainly would have added more to the movie if there were more scenes of the two. Unfortunately this is not the case as Edith only appears a handful of times and contributes relatively little.

Melvin experiences the same problem as he only makes very brief appearances throughout. He contributes a lot more during the climax of the movie but it just makes you wish there would have been more of him throughout the rest of the story. This problem is the same one the film has with Captain Underpants himself. These are both entertaining characters and to have them missing from much of the movie takes away from the experience as whole.

Captain Underpants is delightfully funny and enjoyable from beginning to end because of the strong performances and brilliantly funny writing. The animation is as magnificent and the story has just as much heart as any prior DreamWorks picture, and this is high praise considering the studio’s pedigree. Certain characters may be underutilized (including the title hero), but these are relatively minor complaints compared to how enjoyable the rest of the movie is. With all of this in mind, Captain Underpants gets a 4/5.

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