For a modern-day superhero movie, Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie is fun, energetic and displays a respect for the creative mind that few films in any genre do. Based on the “epic novels” by Dav Pilkey, Captain Underpants is actually written by Nicholas Stoller, whose writing and/or directing credits include such works as Forgetting Sarah Marshall, The Muppets, the two Neighbors movies, Get Him to the Greek and last year’s Storks, so the man does take a ridiculous idea and make it funny. Working with director David Soren (Turbo), Stoller tells the story of the tighty-whities wearing superhero through the eyes of the two young best friends who created him in their self-published comic book.
Kevin Hart and Thomas Middleditch voice George and Harold, pals who live to create mild havoc in their elementary school through practical jokes and by creating a subversive comic book featuring plots and characters that are thinly veiled versions of the students and staff of their school, in particular their blowhard principal Mr. Krupp (Ed Helms) and fellow student and resident tattletale Melvin (Jordan Peele). The boys hang out in their elaborate tree house, concocting new schemes and writing and drawing the latest issue of the comic book, and all seems well until Krupp comes up with a full-proof way to stop their reign of prank terror—putting them in separate classes in the hopes of destroying their friendship.
In a last-ditch effort to stop this from happening the boys use a special hypnosis ring (that they honestly didn’t know had powers) to transform Krupp into a real-life Captain Underpants, whose desire to help the helpless and do good is perhaps overshadowed by the fact that it is not acceptable for a grown man to run around in his underwear, especially in the middle of an elementary school. He receives an actual villain to fight against with the arrival of a suspicious new science teacher, who turns out to be the diabolical Professor Poopypants (Nick Kroll), who enlists the humorless Melvin to be his sidekick (making Melvin the only person on the planet who doesn’t laugh at the Professor’s very silly name).
The PG-rated Captain Underpants doesn’t simply feature potty humor as a means to get young and old alike to titter with delight; it wears it like a ceremonial robe, with pride and honor. It this universe, there is no brow too low, no depth to which they won’t sink for a silly joke. Stoller remembers what it was that made him giggle helplessly as a kid and weaves that sensibility into his screenplay like a fine craftsman. The movie is positively brimming with enthusiasm and a commitment to honoring independent thinking, while still finding a way to send the message that there’s a time for fun and a time for actual learning in school. You might miss such themes because of too much laughing, but there are worse things. This movie is ridiculous entertainment of the highest order, and I’m guessing you already know if you’re too sophisticated to still enjoy childish humor, Poopypants. Clearly, I’m not.