Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie (2017)
Dir: David Soren
I have to admit it, I enjoyed this much more than a grown man probably should and I think it has a lot of potential to find an audience who enjoy it as much as me.
Two mischevious schoolboys (Kevin Hart and Thomas Middleditch) convince their curmudgeonly high school principal (Ed Helms) he is their comic book creation, heroic Captain Underpants. Pitting him against new scheming science teacher Professor P (Nick Kroll) whose evil plan is to shrink the humour centre of children’s brains, the ‘hahaguffawchuckleamalus’.
When I saw this at the cinema, there was a little boy at the end of my row whose hahaguffawchuckleamalus was clearly massive. He laughed so loudly and at the slightest thing that I’m not sure how much of the rest of the audience’s laughter was as a result of the film (which is very funny) or just in reaction to him.
Children around me, including the ones I went with, did seem to enjoy the film, there were plenty of laughs, though I must say they weren’t consistently abounding through the film, I’m sure I laughed at more things than they did. Other adults I saw it with were far less convinced than I was, though they are possibly not as overly in-touch with their inner child as I am.
The film surprised me in all the right ways with how meta it is. Characters frequently directly address the audience and riff on everything. For me, that added another level to the comedy, beyond just the outright jokes, George and Harold’s attitude and humorous take on everything is so fun that it kept me thoroughly entertained throughout. Part of the key to why this works so well is the excellent voice casting. While Kevin Hart and Thomas Middleditch don’t really sound like kids, they do sound like big kids having fun which works perfectly well for the style and tone they’re going for.
The film has a really nice visual style, adapted from the original illustrations and therefore distinctive, even from other work by Dreamworks Animation, also partly because they outsourced the animating to Canadian company Mikros Image. There are also brief scenes that make comedic use of other animation styles and techniques, little asides and sequences that added variety and more self-referential moments which appealed to me.
It’s called the ‘first’ epic movie but I don’t see it going on to have a sequel anytime soon unless it does particularly well on VOD and home release. The box office takings were pretty good, roughly triple the budget, however, it didn’t make much of a splash, coming out at the same time as ‘Wonder Woman’ which stole all the headlines. Though it appealed to me straight away (and I’ve heard many other critics who loved it too), for others it may be a grower and require another watch to get all the clever jokes and well-conceived moments, so it might find a greater audience yet. There’s also a Netflix series in production for next year that will undoubtedly help to direct people back to this film.
Interestingly, I watched this again at home last week with two of the kids I took to the cinema, one who really liked it the first time, one who really didn’t. Afterwards, my little 10-year-old friend said ‘I didn’t like it at the cinema, but, this time, I actually really enjoyed it’. So, there’s evidence right there that maybe I’m right and this will find success on repeat viewings when on streaming services, especially when it’s included for free in those packages.
‘Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie’ is available on VOD and to purchase in all usual formats from all the standard places. It may have struggled to find fans among the kids I went with, but I think it may see increased popularity when inevitably it’s included for free streaming on Netflix.