Yesterday, we took a look at a film that wanted to entertain you with laughs, but didn’t really know how to execute it despite having a great cast and a solid idea. Today, we take a look at a film with a completely dumb idea that would appear to only entertain babies and a cast that’s greatest strength are in television…only to make a genuinely entertaining film. Expectations are something strange in this business, especially considering that when I saw this film, I was the sole occupant of my theater on a Sunday night for this movie. Usually, this means I’m for an hour and a half of pain, but I was pleasantly surprised to find myself smiling through the entire experience and even chuckling to myself. See? I’m not a heartless bore who doesn’t like comedy, I just have…odd tastes.
So we start with George (Kevin Hart) and Harold (Thomas Middleditch from Silicon Valley) as two elementary school kids who are both ridiculously imaginative and very creative with making comics and pranking all of the teachers at their school. They especially love to punk their mean, authoritarian principal, Mr. Krupp (Ed Helms). But after the pair get snitched on by their serious and dweeby nemesis, Melvin (Jordan Peele), Krupp plans to destroy George and Harold’s friendship by putting them in separate classes. Desperate, the pair manage to hynotize Krupp with a toy found at the bottom of a cereal (roll with it), and decide to make their principal believe he’s actually George and Harold’s greatest creation, the amazing Captain Underpants. Which comes in handy as it would seem a deranged mad scientist by the name of Professor Poopypants (Nick Kroll, and yes, keep rolling with it) is bent on destroying the world, starting with George and Harold’s school.
The plot is naturally silly and is spat out at you at the speed of an excited 8-year-old hopped on sugar. But the speed at which the film goes helps keep the energy high and the jokes coming a mile per second. And while the majority of jokes were primarily toilet-related, I still couldn’t be mad at it. The film centers around two fourth graders unleashing their wildest imagination upon their boring, everyday world and it’s far more than what they bargained for. So yeah, it makes sense that would brings joy these to two are jokes centered around Uranus.
Helping matters is that the cast is pretty decent overall. I have a…mixed reception of Kevin Hart usually, but this is one of the few times I genuinely enjoyed his contribution. Hearing a far older guy portray a nine-year-old is funny enough, but he injects as much life as possible into his character that I never grew bored with him and his voice never grated (which is saying something). Similarly, Middleditch is also doing a worthwhile job as well, but the two leads’ interaction with each other is where you really get a feel that these two characters genuinely like each other moreso than anyone else in the world. And yes, I am implying they are pretty much lovers because the movie itself mocks them while they’re at it.
Ed Helms was also entertaining in the dual role of Mr. Krupp and Captain Underpants, the ridiculous superhero wearing nothing by tighty-whities and a torn window curtain. As the titular hero, he talks like an exaggerated version of Superman who’s completely incompetent and does far more damage than he does good (so not far off from the current incarnation). Yet, when he’s Mr. Krupp, he’s a curmudgeon old man that the film reveals a surprising amount of depth to give you an idea of why he’s such a dick. It’s not complex dramatic fare, but it’s enough. It gives you a simple character motivation and you’re off to the races for some decent slapstick and kid jokes.
Incidentally, this film also helps demonstrate why I didn’t really find Baywatch (2017) all that funny and why I liked this far more. For one, this film has solid characters with motivations that feel both genuine and a little ridiculous. But the film acknowledges how absurd these goals are, so you accept it within their universe. Contrasted with Baywatch, where the Rock and Efron portrayed Adonis-like lifeguards that either had tragic (but not really) backstories or an overwhelming sense of duty while they carried out their goals near flawlessly because they’re just so damn great even as everyone around them tells not to. See, telling someone who is more than qualified not to do something isn’t funny on itself, there is far more comedic potential in well-meaning heroes that have zero clue or ability to save the day aside from a combination of dumb luck and the villain being just as ridiculous as the heroes are.
Which brings us to Professor Poopypants, and I will call you a damn liar if you didn’t immediately smirk when you saw that name. Kroll has acting duty for this mad scientist, and he brings out a very pronounced German accent (moreso than in Sing) as this utterly insane man. His plan (that I will not spoil) is ludicrous, his method for executing the plan is even more insane, and yet this just added positives for the film. Because as big and weird as the film gets, the energy never lets up for your brain to process how silly this all is. And that’s because this is pretty much a kid this age would be thinking about, but the studio behind the film managed to wrangle the excitement to a point it could tell a coherent narrative.
Pulling this whole feat off is Mikros Image, a small animation company from Canada that previously worked on the impressive looking but odd The Little Prince from last year. So while the visuals look much closer to the original series of graphic novels written by Dav Pilkey, it looks very much unlike Dreamworks Animation’s usual fare. It’s not very slick, and hell at one point the film straight up uses flip animation like a kid would make (though this is utilized in the novels I’m told) in order to save on the budget. But for what they had, the filmmakers made a very solid film.
It may not be the best of the year material, and Lord knows we’re in store for the other animation giants bringing out the big guns in 2017, but I genuinely had fun with Captain Underpants. I never read the books as I had just left the age group it was targeted towards when it was first released, but I do know it has plenty of fans. For them, I think they got the movie they actually deserved. If you have a kid who wants to see something funny over the summer in a theater, you can do a hell of lot worse than this for far more. Me? I liked this enough to give it a low…