Being a superhero only requires two things: The will to save the day and that you wear your underwear on the outside. This long-lasting school yard mockery of classic superhero designs seemed to be a great deal of inspiration for Dav Pilkey. Pilkey decided to channel the creativity of an immature child and answer the question that no one was asking, “What if a hero just fought evil in their underwear”. Pilkey began writing child stories, with the goal of introducing the world to the one, the only Captain Underpants.
“When I began making children’s books in 1986, my goal was to one day make a book about Captain Underpants… but every publisher who saw it turned it down. When the book was finally accepted in 1996, it was a real dream come true!” — Dav Pilkey
Pilkey created a fun and creative reading experience for younger readers full of creative drawings, and low brow humor to captivate a wide audience willing to laugh at the absurd adventures of Captain Underpants. Captain Underpants has graced the cover of his twelve epic novels and finally at long last has brought his presence to the big screen in the DreamWorks animated feature Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie.
For those unfamiliar with the story of Captain Underpants the movie and books features the tales of two class clowns in elementary school George Beard (Kevin Hart) and Harold Hutchins (Thomas Middleditch) getting into trouble and having a good time. When the two kids are not pulling pranks on the facility at Jerome Horwitz elementary school (Jerome Horwitz being named after the actor of Curly Howard from the Three Stooges) they are co-creating the comic book adventure of the incredible superhero Captain Underpants. George writes and Harold illustrates the pictures together making them the perfect team that has caused them to be the perfect best friends. The pair’s shenanigans are always gaining them the attention and animosity of the school’s mean principal Mr. Krupp (Ed Helms). Having enough of their antics Mr. Krupp plans to permanently separate the two into different classes. Before this happens, George using his cereal box prize hypno ring, hypnotizes Mr. Krupp into believing he is Captain Underpants. George and Harold now must keep their superhero creation under control as a villainous science teacher comes into the picture to steal the world of its enjoyment of laughter and all that is funny.
The animation aesthetic is rather unique being reminiscent of the overall look of The Peanuts Movie (2015). This due to the emphasis on keeping character models in either frontal or side profile to match more with the 2-D drawn source material. The movements also attempt for a bouncier elastic motion than stiff more natural movement to giving it a more cartoon-ish and energetic vibe. Besides that, the film also introduces a fair share of mixed animation styles with small segments of altering styles to drive home the absurdity of the film. The interjecting styles seems non-intrusive as it feels right with the intention of Pilkey’s stories and give the film some unique and humorous moments. Captain Underpants might be the changing of the guard as this was the final DreamWorks Animation film distributed by 20th Century Fox. DreamWorks has now been acquired by NBCUniversal who also owns Illumination the animation company home of the minions. Unsure of what this new era may bring but Captain Underpants sure was a nice way to go out.
The type of humor is what you would expect from the titular character Captain Underpants. Don’t expect Captain Underpants to challenge you intellectually but at the same time I wouldn’t dismiss it at face value. The film hits it younger demographic hard targeting that young age where fart jokes and partial nudity is hilarious and this is where most of the jokes lie. However, at the same time through the execution of telling some of these jokes does this movie get across how clever it can be. It’s not necessarily the punchlines but rather how characters or plot points are presented or handled that I think can be appreciated and even give a chuckle to the more mature audience. The cast of voice actors is filled with multiple comedic talents that not only all feel comfortable with voice acting but also have good timing and line delivery to help get the comedy across. I’m not sure how Common-Sense Media has to react to a repeated joke about how funny the planet Uranus is, as even I wondered if this was a little too inappropriate but I give it a pass for the character’s immaturity. While most of the humor is immature it comes from a wholesome place as the film does well in transferring the feeling of youthful fun and childish tomfoolery.
At the end of the day, a film fails if you the audience doesn’t care about the characters, and what happens in their life. This however is not a problem in Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie as the film gets across a rich friendship between the two leads early and packages it nicely. Harold and George come across as these great best friends who are almost similar in every single way and find company in each other’s mischievous humor. We the audience care for these characters because of how well it comes across that these two cherish their friendship something that I think the audience can relate to. Despite, the boys being obvious troublemakers, the film does a good job at presenting them not as malice acts of say a Dennis the Menace but rather their attempt at bringing fun and joy into their world for them and their fellow classmates to enjoy. This further is exemplified by
SPOILERS: when the boys display an act of kindness towards principal Krupp by setting him on a date with the lunch lady.
The universal theme of friendship feels appropriately true to the source material and presents it in a manner that’s both humorous and meaningful without being overly melodramatic. The Captain Underpants film also displays the direct approach in conducting an adaptation. Adaptations can be a tricky formula to pull off with the struggle to balance a faithfulness to the source material and the necessary to provide fresh new outlook on the material to either make it relevant to the new audience or transcend a change in medium. From what I understand Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie is comprised of character, plot points, and other elements comprised from the first four books that combine into an original new story better fitted for movie going audiences. Both fans and new comers can both enjoy the film if the keep an open mind on the wacky antics and toilet humor bound to ensue.
Captain Underpants has been a familiar face around Scholastic Book Fair’s across the country for a long time. As of now Pilkey has ended his Captain Underpants series after the twelve booked released in 2015. If you’ve seen the film than go check out the books as I’m sure they’re just as good of a read. With 12 books in the series and 4 used to compose the recent release the series has left a perfect amount of material to compose a trilogy, no news yet if this is the plan but with positive box office yield and critical reception it’s certainly possible. Dav Pilkey is continuing to write other series which he imagines other stories George and Harold would come up with. If you enjoy Pilkey’s style check out his recent work in Dog Man. The film can best be described as fun and innocent, made for a target demographic I’m not a part of but one that properly pulls off a film that fans and kids should enjoy. Both the books and the film are both well-deserving of their praise and I recommend that a parent should not feel ashamed to take their child to witness the white, tight, justice of Captain Underpants.
images: All images used are from Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie [Credit: DreamWorks Animation/20th Century Fox.