A goofy out of his element superhero who fights his battles in his underwear, literally.
A couple of nerdy yet ambitious kids who draw up their heroes in their cool treehouse after school.
An overbearing principal who makes school feel like a prison.
An evil professor whose last name has inspired him to bring an end to laughter for good.
Do these sound like interesting people to you?
Those are the main players of the latest animated flick, Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie. Without being epic, the kids will dig this fast moving 89 minute flick while the parents may roll their eyes, but won't be alienated completely by the jokes being dispensed along with their popcorn and soda. Just don't expect too much from this movie, because then it may disappoint.
George (Kevin Hart) and Harold (Thomas Middleditch) may be legendary pranksters in their school, but once they get to their treehouse after school, their comic imaginations go to work. Their most proud hero, Captain Underpants (Ed Helms), just happens to be a cooler variation on the sadistic principle, Mr. Krupp (Helms as well). Krupp is the kind of the principle who decorated his office with a steel trap door instead of advancing the arts department. Kids hide in their lockers instead of crawling out to learn. Teachers either appear depressed or half asleep, and have no care for the kids.
When George finds a way to hypnotize Krupp, the mean guy suddenly turns into Captain Underpants, and the school gets a fresh coat of energy. That is before a mysterious professor arrives at the school looking for a job, so he can secretly administer evil work on the children. Imagine if your name was Professor Poopypants, and you may share a quiet sympathy for Nick Kroll's villain.
The film is more interesting when it's just George and Harold doing wacky pranks and having fun with their principle, but when the Professor shows up, the ordinary rhythms of a kid flick show up, and the laughs start to die down a little bit. Director David Soren does a good job painting a wicked visualization of the way school does appear to kids, bringing out the worst fears in their imagination about the imprisonment it can resemble. Nicholas Stoller's screenplay was adapted from Dav Pilkey's epic novels, and there's a dialogue in the film about the decrepit state of schools and teachers' low pay.
While it made me laugh in parts and my five year dug it, Captain Underpants won't achieve any extra credit with its execution.
Don't get me wrong; my five year old son got a kick out of it, and made it through the film without turning our aisle into a greeting center for Rescue Bots introductions, but there are a lot of animated films I would put over this, including the Secret Life of Pets and Zootopia. Those films contained a more well-rounded story and characters that would be worth following again.
The voice work is fine across the board. Hart had a good part in Secret Life of Pets and does good work here as the comic writer, George. Middleditch is known for his work on HBO's Silicon Valley, and acquits himself well here. Helms' superhero is far better than his principle, because the Ron Burgundy like loony heroics Underpants gets himself into are engrossing. Kroll fares the best with his evil professor, simply because you are terrified by him, and also feel for him at the same time.
While Captain Underpants will thrill the five year old and aim to pull out the kid in the adult tagging along with his kid, it is also quite forgettable, and won't hang around with you once you wake up the next day.
I won't order detention for Soren's film, but I'll say it's more for the kids instead of the whole family.