Starring: Kevin Hart, Ed Helms, Thomas Middleditch
Director: David Soren
Running Time: 89 mins
Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie is an American film about two schoolboys who manage to hypnotise their mean headmaster, turning him into the greatest superhero in the world: Captain Underpants.
Sometimes a film doesn’t need to be serious or clever. Sometimes it’s nice to just sit back and be entertained as if you were an 8 year old, and that’s exactly what Captain Underpants does so well. With a brilliantly self-aware sense of incredibly silly humour, furthered by fun animation and entertaining voice performances, it’s a very likable and easy film from start to finish, despite the fact that it’s never quite as hilarious or all-encompassing as it perhaps aims to be.
But let’s start with what’s most important about this movie: not taking things too seriously, and just having a bit of juvenile fun. Much like the books it’s based on, the entire film is filled with dumb toilet humour ranging from a toilet that shoots toilet paper to a character called Professor Poopypants, but it’s all presented in such a clearly self-aware way that it’s really easy to accept it all and sit back to admire the ridiculousness.
Of course, that means the film loses some points for ingenuity, but with such a deliberately silly atmosphere throughout, compounded by incredibly cartoonish animation that doesn’t even try for a second to be realistic, everything is ripe for a film that’s there to be simply enjoyed by young viewers, and possibly even get a smile out of the adults too.
The screenplay and performances are other examples of how the film’s self-awareness of its idiocy makes it all work so well. The story regularly takes breaks from its relatively orthodox plot for a series of bizarre asides, ranging from our two young leads getting out a flipbook to explain the action, to all manner of other quirky, kiddish gags. Also, the fact that the two young boys who are the main characters are played by grown adults (Kevin Hart and Thomas Middleditch), with their deep, adult voices, is further proof of the film’s desire to break out from the boring, orthodox nature of storytelling, something that’s both endearing and fun to see throughout.
However, the problems with this film arise when it comes to the comedy itself. There’s no denying that Captain Underpants is a fun movie, and I was chuckling and smiling quite a bit throughout, but I never found that the comedy was either original or simply funny enough to really make me laugh my socks off. As entertainingly self-aware as it is, the fact remains that Captain Underpants is first and foremost a kids’ movie, and it’s hard to ever see it outside that sphere, which means adult viewers can’t really ever get to grips with it and enjoy it to the best possible level.
The gold standard for family animated movies from the last few years is The Lego Movie. Not only was it a film with stunning depth and originality for what was expected to be a feature-length advert, but it managed to bring to life this new genre of hilariously self-aware and self-parodic humour that’s been increasingly mimicked by other family animations ever since.
Of course, the way in which The Lego Movie’s humour worked made it as brilliantly entertaining and hilarious a watch for adults as well as kids, but Captain Underpants just doesn’t do that to the same extent. While it has the promise with its self-parodic comedy, it’s just not quite clever or fresh enough to grab older viewers in the same way, even if its toilet humour will still put a smile on your face.
Overall, I liked Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie. It’s a very easy, simple and fun watch throughout, never taking itself too seriously, and featuring fun animation, performances and self-aware humour from beginning to end. However, it’s just not quite funny or fresh enough to grab you in the ways that have been shown by films like The Lego Movie, and that’s why it feels a bit underwhelming as little more than a kids’ movie, which is why I’m giving it a 7.3.