Unlike a lot of kids, I actually never read the books this movie is based on. Can’t exactly explain why. I always had an interest, but I never made the time or any real effort to read them. So, to be completely honest, I have no idea what they were about. I actually assumed it was about a little kid with superpowers who saved older kids from whatever was terrorizing them.
I see that the movie is very different from my preconceptions. It looks like it’s about two kids who are notorious pranksters. One day, they go too far and their mean principal threatens to keep them apart in separate classrooms to prevent their diabolical schemes. Genuinely afraid to be apart, they hypnotize their principal via ridiculously random magic ring into believing that he is the kids’ personal superhero creation, Captain Underpants, who goes around fighting crime and monsters that don’t exist, until a real threat comes along for him to save the day.
I have to admit… I don’t think this looks good. I mean, I can appreciate DreamWorks keeping the animation the same style as the books, but man, I do not buy these voice actors as kids. Even if the movie happens to be really good, which I’m not holding my breath for, Kevin Hart and Thomas Middleditch will distract the living daylights out of me for how much they do not sound like kids. Look, I know Hart is a short dude with a high pitched voice, but he still doesn’t sound like a kid. He sounds like a high-pitched voiced adult. But hey, I’ll keep my mind open. DreamWorks has done amazing work in the past. But for every few great films, they’ve got one bad one too. Initial thoughts are: not a good movie.
But let’s take a look at the voice talent. As previously stated, we have Hart (THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS , GET HARD , GRUDGE MATCH , and upcoming films JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE  and RIDE ALONG 3, due out… who knows when), Middleditch (THE BRONZE , THE CAMPAIGN , TV show SILICON VALLEY, and the upcoming GODZILLA: KING OF MONSTERS ), as well as Ed Helms (VACATION , THE LORAX , and THE HANGOVER ).
In support, we have Nick Kroll (SING , and TV shows THE LEAGUE and PARKS AND REC), Jordan Peele (STORKS , WANDERLUST , and TV show KEY AND PEELE), and Kristen Schaal (THE BOSS , and TV shows BOBS BURGERS and THE LAST MAN ON EARTH).
Now for behind the scenes. Directing is David Soren, known for TURBO (2013). Penning the screenplay is Nicholas Stoller, known for STORKS, MUPPETS MOST WANTED (2014), and THE MUPPETS (2011). Finally, the composer for the score is Theodore Shapiro, known for COLLATERAL BEAUTY (2016), INFINITELY POLAR BEAR (2014), and DIARY OF A WIMPY KID (2010).
Overall, not terribly thrilled to see this, but here’s to hoping it’s better than it’s letting on.
This is my honest opinion of: CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS: THE FIRST EPIC MOVIE
Harold (Thomas Middleditch) and George (Kevin Hart) are a pair of kids who are the best of friends. They make comics together, their favorite creation being the crime-fighting Captain Underpants, and try to have as much fun as possible. This isn’t easy when they’re at school, which is run by their evil principal, Mr. Krupp (Ed Helms). They combat his authority by pulling off pranks. He’s been unable to get them in trouble due to a lack of proof. However, the inevitable happens and the two boys are about to be separated into different classes. In an act of desperation, Harold attempts to hypnotize Krupp using a magical toy ring… and it miraculously works. They turn Krupp into their comic creation Captain Underpants and he gets loose, trying to fight crime with super powers that he doesn’t have.
While I wasn’t wholly wrong about this movie, I’d be lying if I said was completely right. It’s no Kung Fu Panda or How to Train Your Dragon, it’s perfectly fine for what it is: a harmless kids movie.
Because the movie is painfully clear that it’s meant for kids, the humor is exactly that: kiddie humor. So most of the jokes aren’t especially funny. It’s just tolerable. Thankfully, DreamWorks had the foresight not to go all NORM OF THE NORTH (2016), but keeps the humor pretty innocent. I think maybe there was one fart joke that wasn’t too bad, and a surprising lack of potty humor. Instead, the jokes are pretty much what you’d expect them to be. The kids hypnotize their principal into turning into their undergarment clad superhero and laugh at him as any kid would, and the guy acting all goofy. Again, thankfully, it’s written in a way that isn’t annoying. It’s not written funny, for the most part, but it’s not obnoxious.
Even the plot has been kind of done before. Not the superhero bit, of course, but the whole, “We’re fun-loving kids in a school that hates fun and we’re the rebels who want the rest of the kids to have fun too.” MIDDLE SCHOOL (2016) did that and you can argue that FIST FIGHT (2017) did it too to a degree, albeit it’s the teachers struggling to deal with unruly teens. Give the movie some credit, that’s not the focus of the story and they do segue into a more exciting story. But even that’s been done before too: unleashing a goofy adult that young people need to rein in and pretend they’re related, like in JUMANJI (1995). Once again though, it could have been worse.
The movie also does try to have a moral at the end: find something to laugh at yourself about. I can’t lie, I like that moral and it’s pretty unique in a kids movie. The problem is that the rest of the movie doesn’t really back it up. The movie starts off about pranks and learning to lighten up, then it turns into a silly superhero movie, and it’s only at the end where the moral is brought up. But even then, it’s not really enforcing its moral. The kids are still laughing at the teacher’s name and spent a good chunk of time making fun of it in a self-made comic book they made. These kids never make fun of themselves or point out their own flaws. So the moral is completely confused and ultimately pointless.
Is there anything that’s funny? Well, I did like a few jokes in the beginning. You might recall from the trailer when the two kids try to leave their principal’s office only for him to press a button and then a high tech lockdown initiates, preventing their escape. By the end of the dramatic lockdown, George says, “Wow, that’s an expensive door.” But this is followed up with Mr. Krupp smugly saying something like, “Do you like it? I had a choice to spend school funding on a magnetically sealed door, or keep the theater-arts department open. I think I made the better choice.” I admit, I laughed at that. There’s another sequence where, if I remember correctly, Captain Underpants has turned the entire front of the school into an amusement park of sorts and Harold and George are like, “What do we do?! We have to stop this!” A shot of kids having fun goes by and then you see Harold and George going through a sugar rush, clearly enthralled by the festivities at some point. And pretty much anything when Professor Poopypants comes in. Yup, Kroll steals the show on this one. One line that just came back to me was when Poopypants has got these kids in a bind and he’s about to sap their ability to laugh at anything, the kids try to appeal to his good nature by saying something like, “Dude, you gotta lighten up and learn to laugh at yourself,” or something to that effect. And then Poopypants exclaims, “Oh really, Oprah?!” Again, I laughed quite a bit on that one. There’s also this running gag with this lady on hold. That was funny too.
That’s… kind of it, actually. It’s not like a good DreamWorks movie like How to Train Your Dragon where adults could go in without kids and get something out of it. No, you’d want to bring your kids for this one. It’s a movie for them and it works fine for what it’s supposed to do: keep ’em entertained, which it will do effectively. The animation is fine, and fast-paced, so it’s never boring. It’s colorful and competently made, so it’s not completely devoid of imagination. Personally, if you wanted to see a better version of this that both kids and adults would enjoy, LEGO BATMAN (2017) is the way to go. But if your kids are itching to see it, go ahead, it’s harmless and not painful to sit through. But if you’re an adult hit with nostalgia who grew up with the books unlike me, I’d say wait for a rental. It’s not exactly worth a theater viewing. Not bad, not that good, just… meh. I’m not the target demographic, so it is what it is.
My honest rating for CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS: THE FIRST EPIC MOVIE: 3/5