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"CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS: THE FIRST EPIC MOVIE"
(2017) (Voices of Kevin Hart, Ed Helms) (PG)


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QUICK TAKE:
Animated Action-Comedy: Two schoolboys hypnotize their strict principal into thinking he is a superhero, and then they run afoul of a very real super-villain.
PLOT:
George (voice of KEVIN HART) and Harold (voice of THOMAS MIDDLEDITCH) are a couple of fun-loving grade-schoolers who became fast friends in kindergarten and have been virtually inseparable ever since. Over the years, they have discovered they both are artistic and have come up with a number of goofy comic books together with George the storyteller and Harold the artist.

They're also a couple of pranksters who love to pull off all sorts of goofy stunts to thumb their nose at the totalitarian rule of Principal Krupp (voice of ED HELMS), a strict, mean-spirited educator who is obsessed with proving the two boys are behind all of the hijinks that have befallen the school over the years. Harold and George eventually go too far, sabotaging the science project of a humorless classmate named Melvin (voice of JORDAN PEELE). Caught on hidden surveillance footage, Krupp seizes the opportunity to separate Harold and George and put them into completely different classes.

Eager to stay together, the two boys hatch a scheme to hypnotize Krupp and convince him he is their favorite comic-book creation, the good-hearted, eternally valiant Captain Underpants, and they are his faithful sidekicks. Captain Underpants soon wins the heart of Edith (voice of KRISTEN SCHAAL), the school's quirky cafeteria lady. Unfortunately, this all coincides with the arrival of a legitimate super-villain, the school's new science teacher named "Professor P" (voice of NICK KROLL), who has designs on inventing a special laser ray that will rob all humans of their senses of humor.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
If you go into a film titled "Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie" expecting high-brow, sophisticated humor and Pixar-level social commentary this reviewer really can't help ya. If you are still looking for thematic ambiguity and hints of Sartre and Kierkegaard after the introduction of the villain Professor Poopypants, you obviously live in a state where marijuana has been legalized and the 11 p.m. showings of this film are just as crowded as the 11 a.m. screenings.

How much you get into "Captain Underpants" may just depend on how many kids under the age of 10 you have and how much joy you take in listening to them giggle, guffaw, and generally crack over 90 or so minutes of silly names, 1982-fresh "Uranus" jokes, and Whoopee cushion symphonies. Your little ones will want the Happy Meal after. Go ahead and indulge in a Big Mac. You made 'em happy for a little while, Mom and/or Dad. And the movie wasn't that bad to boot.

I did enjoy "Captain Underpants." But I would have enjoyed it more had my daughter still been eight or nine years old and willing to go with me. Now 12, I told her the movie I was going to be seeing, asked if she wanted to go see it with me, had my face laughed in, and not-so-little Maddie returned to her Instagram page on her cell phone muttering something like, "Tell me when you have passes to go see 'The Mummy.'"

Ah well. It was bound to happen.

"Captain Underpants" follows the misadventures of elementary-school besties George (voice of Kevin Hart) and Harold (voice of Thomas Middleditch) as they try and break the tension of their strict public school with a series of pranks against the teachers, their fellow classmates, and the stern authoritarian Principal Krupp (voice of Ed Helms). But their efforts frequently land them in trouble, and Krupp has finally had enough after they sabotage the school's de facto science fair, the Invention Convention. He separates George and Harold permanently into different classes.

Distraught, Harold and George makes a last-ditch effort to save themselves by hypnotizing Krupp with one of those gag hypnosis rings. Amazingly, it works! Through the power of suggestion, they convince Krupp that he is a comic book character the two dreamt up called "Captain Underpants," who runs around saving the day and dispensing justice in a cap and some tighty-whiteys.

Helms has great fun as the voice of both the no-nonsense principal and the comically valiant not-so-superhero. But matters become complicated when the school's new science teacher, "Professor P" (voice of Nick Kroll), turns out to be a bona fide mad scientist intent on inventing a zap ray that will literally suck the sense of humor out of all human beings. He also has a ray gun that can both shrink and expand objects and people.

The movie is a hodgepodge of a lot of popular entertainments, everything from "The Peanuts," "E.T.," and "Gravity Falls" to "Honey I Shrunk the Kids," "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs" and "Megamind." It tries mightily to reach for the sort of absurdist, subversive humor that "The LEGO Movie" pulled off beautifully a couple of years back. But its heart is really in its potty humor. I liked that the two lead boys were kindred spirits in love with storytelling (George is the writer, Harold is the artist of their series of comic books). And I really enjoyed a sequence that could have been outlandishly violent that the filmmakers opted to dramatize in crude "flip book style" (while Harold cracks about it "keeping the budget down").

But I found the use of adults as the voices of all the children really distracting throughout. There were enough adult characters that they could have gotten the box office names needed to sell this kind of fare. There are just so many talented child actors out there now, as evidenced by the kids of "Stranger Things" and other popular entertainment.

Still, there is a lot here to entertain the kids without talking down to them or corrupting them. At its heart, it's still about dealing with mean teachers, hanging out in cool tree houses, and lying on the floor and imagining adventures with big robots and courageous superheroes. A 6-year-old may give it a 10 out of 10. This 46-year-old gives it a 6 out of 10. (T. Durgin)




Reviewed June 1, 2017 / Posted June 2, 2017


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