“Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie” is childish and silly. Of course, anyone who has read one of the 70 million books sold around the world featuring the rotund hero know that already.
Yet, while the production never reaches for intellectual grandeur, it is one of the funniest movies of the year. If you still giggle when someone mentions that the seventh planet from the sun is Uranus, then get ready to blow some laugh snot bubbles. If that planetary joke comes across as crass, then either skip the movie or lighten up.
The film closely follows the books written and illustrated by Dav Pilkey. Director David Soren uses a higher quality computer-generated style of animation, but while it gives the characters more substance, the essence of the characters and stories remain true to the source.
The fruit of the lunacy starts with George and Harold (voiced with great glee by Kevin Hart and Thomas Middleditch), two elementary school buddies who spend more time pulling pranks than studying. It’s as if the pair are kindred spirits to Bart Simpson. The big difference is that the two best friends are also the masterminds behind a series of comics featuring Captain Underpants, a hero who fights evil dressed in his tighty-whities.
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Their hijinks have attracted the wrath of the school’s principal, Mr. Krupp (Ed Helms). His plan is to split the friends by putting them in different classes, but before he can make the move, George and Harold hypnotize Mr. Krupp into believing he’s Captain Underpants. This proves helpful when the school gets a mad scientist, Professor Poopypants (Nick Kroll), as the new science teacher. It’s only Poopypants’ day job, as he has a diabolical scheme to end all laughter that will start with the students at Jerome Horwitz Elementary School.
Hart brings an energy to his acting roles that is on the same level as a third grader eating a bag of sugar for dinner. Soren gives Hart just enough room to make his voice work without becoming tiresome.
Middleditch, Helms and Kroll also turn in solid work, but the spark plug of this production is Hart.
Nicholas Stoller’s screenplay never gets more complicated than good vs. evil. That’s in step with the books and keeps the movie from falling into a plot funk. A simple story leaves more time for silly jokes and lighthearted humor. Face it: You can’t have a story with a character named Poppypants and bog it down with intricate plot twists and layered stories.
This is less like a typical animated offering and more like an episode of a live-action children’s program, such as “Pee-wee’s Playhouse” or “The Weird Al Show.” Part of the Yankovic vibe also comes from the “Underpants” theme song. It’s juvenile in lyrics but fits perfectly with the rest of the movie.
Soren manages to keep the movie’s tempo high while dealing with all of the origin information necessary for those who don’t have multiple “Captain Underpants” books on their Kindle. The film starts with a bang and ends with a boom, with little time to breathe in between. And it has the kind of infectious fun that should prompt fans of the books to want to read more and spark those who have not read any tales to take a look.
The film’s lone weakness is that it has only a few female characters, such as the lunch lady.
That’s only a small problem with what is a fun movie experience, as long as you’re willing to laugh at schoolyard humor. You will never be able to listen to the “1812 Overture” the same way again. There are a few jokes aimed at adults, but the best way to appreciate “Captain Underpants” is to sit back and be a kid.
‘Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie’
Rated PG for rude humor. 1:24. Fayette Mall, Frankfort, Georgetown, Hamburg, Nicholasville, Richmond.