Based on the lightly amusing novels by Dav Pilkey, Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie certainly fulfills any expectations of meeting its source material by being, well, lightly amusing. The commonly understood difference between books and movies catches up to this animated feature, which seems to have reached its sell-by date several decades ago. That wouldn't be an enormous problem if screenwriter Nicholas Stoller had done much with this premise. It's a cute premise, too, if one doesn't analyze it too deeply, but Stoller seems to rush through everything. Along the way, it seems that the movie slides more comfortably into anonymity the longer it goes. By the time we have become accustomed to our young heroes, we are introduced to the titular "superhero," and by the time we have gotten used to him, he's facing a villain.
For the record, that villain is quite the character. He is Professor P (voice of Nick Kroll), and yes, the "P" stands for a last name that we learn. Further, yes, he has first and middle names. None of them will be revealed here, but the full name, the character's unique motivation, and Kroll's delightfully off-kilter voice performance combine to create a character who transcends everything around him. His plan is to rid the world of children's laughter by focusing on that specific lobe of the brain (to which he assigns various names, each funnier than the last - and he does the same with the other lobes, too, in a pretty riotous scene) and targeting it with a raygun that shrinks or grows based on the setting. The movie doesn't find this as interesting as the audience might, largely because it then hands the villain a giant weapon in the form of a robotic toilet that targets that lobe of the brain in children.
The film rushes through all of this in a final act that follows our introduction to Captain Underpants himself, a byproduct of hypnosis upon Mr. Krupp (voice of Ed Helms), the cruel principal of the school attended by our heroes. We get the required series of montages of Krupp's adventures within the identity of the "superhero" dressed only in briefs and a cape: He "helps" an elderly lady whose cat is up a tree by throwing her up there himself, for instance. That's just one example among many of his eagerness to be of aid to those in need while not remotely understanding how to accomplish that goal, and he's an appealing hero for a few minutes. He's also a distraction in his own movie, only necessary when the screenplay needs him to be, and that does not extend to the climax involving the giant robot toilet.
That's because the film really belongs to the two heroes, a pair of likable kids named George (voice of Kevin Hart) and Harold (voice of Thomas Middleditch). They bonded over their love of crass, potty-based humor (So of course Professor P's full name is a dream-come-true for the pair, but you're not getting the full name out of me that easily) and their expertise in the creation and conception of self-produced comic books, which are the inspiration to hypnotize mean, old Mr. Krupp into making him believe he's Captain Underpants. These kids are the heart of their movie. They only mean well, which bodes true whether they're trying to keep Mr. Krupp from separating them into different classes (an act they see as the potential end of their friendship) or recounting their various pranks.
For the opening act, this is a funny, surprisingly good-natured comedy, but upon the introductions to Captain Underpants, a passive character with no real attachment to the plot surrounding him, and Professor P, whose appealing villainy is lost upon Stoller and director David Soren, it falls apart. It leads to a chaotic climax that tries to resolve everything with an action sequence. Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie holds some appeal in its two primary protagonists and in a few scenes worthy of chuckles or smiles (and, in the full name of the villain, a sizable laugh, especially toward the discussion that proceeds the reveal). It's also so light and breezy that it almost seems to float away upon the very moment it reaches its closing-credits theme song.
Featuring the voices of Kevin Hart (George), Thomas Middleditch (Harold), Ed Helms (Mr. Krupp/Captain Underpants), Nick Kroll (Professor P), Jordan Peele (Melvin), and Kristen Schaal (Edith).
Directed by David Soren and written by Nicholas Stoller, based on the novels by Dav Pilkey.
Rated PG (mild rude humor throughout).
Released on June 2, 2017.