Captain Underpants may have been an integral part of my childhood, but in all honesty, Dav Pilkey is not the greatest writer I’ve come across. Unlike Andy Stanton and Roald Dahl, his writing style is rather simplistic, often resorting to the most basic of basic techniques. Nevertheless the ideas of Captain Underpants are always more incredible, and have given birth to many memorable characters. It may not be the New Testament of children’s literature, but I still keep coming back to Pilkey’s books because each story inspired greatness within me through their clever humour and uplifting resonance.
So did you all think that I would like Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie before having seen it? Well if there’s anything that “Star Wars: The Jar Jar Menace” has taught us, it’s that we shouldn’t get our hopes too high and that life can sometimes let you down. Although when I saw all the trailers and the song by Weird Al Yankovic (who is referenced on occasion in the books), I couldn’t help but tell that it was going to be a perfect adaptation. I still avoided initial reviews for it as much as I could before it came out in the UK, so that my own perception would remain unspoiled.
July 24th, 10:45am was when Captain Underpants first launched in my area. I can confirm that I left the cinema feeling not only satisfied, but warm inside. It was very faithful to the original books, knowing how and when to reference and utilise said material to further the plot and humour. I remember the second time going to see it with a friend, and they legitimately squealed with joy when the Flip-O-Rama segment happened. It wasn’t just nostalgic, but made an impact on the nature of the story. The First Epic Movie was furthermore successful at including new content that wasn’t present in the books, most notably the way they handled the character of Mr Krupp. Before, he was merely a grumpy old principal with a distaste towards children, which he still is in this movie, but he is revealed to be more than just that. The new character, lunch lady Edith, is the catalyst for this refreshing character dynamic, as it is her who helps Mr Krupp to realise how sad of a person he really is. The animation is spectacularly inventive: while mostly being computer animated, it traverses from hand-drawn illustrations to sock puppet animation of all things, but it’s all in favour of tapping into the characters rather than being for gags. The colours and shading are also beautiful. These attributes are all rather appreciated given that the film only had a production budget of $38 million (that’s lower than The Emoji Movie).
But much like every single Star Wars movie (except The Empire Strikes Back), Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie was not completely free from being problematic. Ever since The Lorax 2012, there’s been this strange trend to cast adult actors as kid characters. In this case it’s Kevin Hart playing the iconic George Beard. Although I didn’t find it a huge problem in this movie because, being that it mostly takes place at an elementary school where much of the characters are kids, it helps to give the main kid character a more distinguishable voice, which Hart managed rather well. Harold is played by Thomas Middleditch, who I am unfamiliar with, but he too sounds much like a grown man, and it’s one of those casting choices that feels wrong at times. Ed Helms, on the upper hand, was perfect as Mr Krupp/Captain Underpants. I loathed Helms for his horrendous portrayal of the Once-Ler in The Lorax 2012, but here he demonstrates his unique capacity to transition from a borderline-psychotic school teacher into a goofy superhero. He brought the titular character off the page and into life on the big screen so incredibly. I couldn’t think of anybody better to portray him.
If there’s anything that I really think ought to have changed, it’s the way that Professor Poopypants, the main villain of the film and main villain of the fourth book, was handled. When he applies to become a science teacher at George and Harold’s elementary school, he is revealed to be in possession of an arsenal of weapons including an axe, dynamite and a chainsaw, and claims on his resumé that his former title was ‘Revenge Seeker’ and that for a long time he has been in ‘a very dark place’. He later calls Melvin, the token nerd character of the franchise, a grade A suck-up. I am aware that Captain Underpants isn’t known for being subtle so to speak, but this way of introducing a villain is the dictionary definition of overkill. He still had an interesting and relatable backstory though, even if it’s not as elaborate as his book counterpart’s.
I enjoyed Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie very much, and it is undoubtedly my favourite movie from 2017, coming just above The LEGO Batman Movie, Baby Driver and Blade Runner 2049. Despite exceeding it’s production budget at the box office, I don’t hold out much hope that Dreamworks will plan on producing a sequel, although I do have a good idea of how they would go about it if they did. It is called the ‘first’ epic movie after all…