Thursday, June 1, 2017

Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie Review

As a young fifth grade kid many years ago, one of the more popular book series, especially with the boys in the class, was the "Captain Underpants" books. I especially remember the fourth book in the series being called "Captain Underpants and the Perilous Plot of Professor Poopypants." In the book, the evil science teacher had that ridiculous name that made everyone laugh at him. That name was a very integral plot point to that specific story and because the books were so silly and fun, the book provided the young readers with a table to create their own silly names. Me and my friends had a hey day with this table. I don't remember what my name was, but I remember that our school's new name was Cheeseball Wafflebutts and me and my friends would often sing our school song with that name as a replacement and it was a lot of fun. So yes, these books, which began being written in 1997, when I was eight years old, were an absolute delight to my younger self. So when I heard that DreamWorks was adapting these books into a movie, the inner child in myself jumped for joy and I hoped that they would be able to recapture that magic from many years ago. To all of you "Captain Underpants" fans that have the same hope, I'm happy to report that they have!

I actually saw this movie this past weekend at an early press screening. Thankfully there weren't just fellow critics at the screening, but the public was also invited, meaning that I got to see this movie in a theater full of parents and their kids, which was exactly what I was hoping for when I went to see this movie. I personally got to go to this screening because I completed an internship a few months back with the Deseret News and this weekend they asked if I could go to this screening and review the movie for them. Their regular critic wasn't able to go, so I was delighted to fill in. I immediately wrote my review after seeing the movie and submitted to them. That should be on their site soon, but I still wanted to write a second review for this blog because I have a loyalty to this blog that I plan on maintaining and I have more personal details that I am able to include here that I couldn't in my other review for obvious reasons. This also means that I got to watch and review this movie completely blind to what other critics are saying, which is a luxury I am not often presented with. And while I'm posting this at a time when other reviews are out, I made the decision to type this up beforehand so I am not influenced at all by the words of others. This is pretty fun, right?

Anyways, DreamWorks themselves have always been up and down for where. While Pixar and Disney are generally fairly consistent with their movies in terms of quality, DreamWorks is all over the place. Most recently I actually hated "The Boss Baby" and it's been quite a while since I've been truly blown away by a movie they've made. And while "Captain Underpants" is certainly not a movie that will be a candidate for my favorite movie of the year, it's a movie that gave me the opportunity to embrace my inner child and really enjoy a film that did my beloved "Captain Underpants" books justice. Now given this subject matter, this wound up being a very different movie for DreamWorks. While many of their franchises, like "Shrek" and "Kung Fu Panda," do their best to please adults and children alike, "Captain Underpants" is a movie where it's extremely obvious that they honed in on their target audience of young boys and attempted to make a movie that this specific audience would love. And regardless of what the old, grumpy movie critics end up saying about this movie, DreamWorks absolutely succeeded in this goal. Or at least all the kids in my theater thought so. One young boy in front of me told his parents afterwards that he was laughing so hard his side hurt.

I mean, that's all I need to say, right? These books have a specific brand of humor and a specific audience that will love this humor. It's the type of humor that attempts to push the line of what's appropriate in a kids book, but never actually crosses it, thus making the kids reading the book laughing hysterically while their parents roll their eyes a bit at what they are laughing at, but ultimately are fine with them reading it given how much fun they are having. And since this franchise is now 20 years old, it's quite possible that the young kids that initially ate these books up are now old enough to be introducing them to their kids, especially since there's 12 of them, the most recent one having come out just two years ago. With this movie, DreamWorks nails this tone to perfection by giving everyone exactly what they were wanting and expecting from a "Captain Underpants" movie. Consequently, if you are not a fan of "Captain Underpants" or you never got invested in them as a child, this is not your movie. Sure, it's great when a movie is able to have a lot of cross appeal and expand beyond its initial target audience, but I also won't fault a movie that does exactly what its target audience wanted it to do, especially if I'm a part of that audience.

As far as specific plot points go, this movie doesn't focus on one specific book to adapt. It's actually a combination of a few of them, specifically the first, second, and fourth as they combined some of the more popular elements of several books into one movie. We start out with our introduction to this Captain Underpants, who just happens to be the mean, angry principal. Our two main protagonist are two fourth-grade friends named George and Harold who love making pranks that make their classmates laugh. Their principal, Mr. Krupp, hates this about them and is on a mission to one day catch them and ruin their friendship. But these two crazy pranksters by pure luck transform Mr. Krupp into Captain Underpants, who was initially a comic book superhero that the kids created. But since Mr. Krupp doesn't exactly have the same powers as the fictional version of Captain Underpants has, the boys have to figure out how to protect him and hide him from the rest of the world while also eventually having to deal with their genius, arch-rival classmate Melvin, the evil science teacher Professor Poopypants and the giant robot toilet that the two create to try to git rid of laughter, because laughter is what has ruined their lives and thus they are out for revenge.

So yes, it's ridiculous, it's off the wall and it's crazy. But that's what the books are all about and the movie does a great job of capturing all of that magic while being restrained enough to be completely appropriate for kids, unlike some animated movies these days. I'm looking at you "Angry Birds Movie." Also speaking of restraint, the movie has the eccentric Kevin Hart playing one of our two kids and I was impressed by how toned down he was for this movie. Kevin Hart can be really funny at times, but he can also be so over the top that you want to slap him and tell him to calm down when it becomes more annoying than funny. Luckily his character isn't even very hyper or eccentric. It ends up being perfect for this specific character. While we're talking about the voice cast, the movie also has Ed Helms as Captain Underpants and Mr. Krupp, Nick Kroll as Professor Poopypants, Jordan Peele as Melvin and Thomas Middleditch as Harold. All of these people end up coming together to create a perfect voice cast who is able to help properly bring the books to life as they all seem quite natural to what you imagined while reading the books. My favorite of the bunch had to be Ed Helms as he gracefully bounced back and forth between both of his characters.

My final point with this movie is that even though this movie is mainly focused on the non-stop gags that the kids will love, this does have a surprising amount of heart. The key ingredient here is laughter. And while jokes will bring the audience laughter, laughter is also the theme of the movie. The movie tries to teach kids that laughter and fun is an important key to life. George and Harold pull pranks to make their classmates laugh because the school is otherwise very dull and boring. Professor Poopypants wants to take laughter away because people constantly laughed at his name and he wasn't able to laugh at himself. I strongly believe that this is a very important element of life as everyone needs to learn to have fun. I liked that about this movie. It's a great message to teach kids. And the movie taught this with words, but also by example as the movie constantly made the kids laugh throughout. So again, if you were never a fan of this series or never were able to get invested in it, then this is not a movie for you. But if you like "Captain Underpants" or you have kids that would fit the bill, then this is a movie for you because it's exactly what you would expect from a "Captain Underpants" movie. I am going to give "Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie" an 8/10.

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