Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie Voices of Kevin Hart, Ed Helms, Thomas Middleditch. Directed by David Soren. Rated PG. Opens Friday citywide.
“Action! Thrills! Laffs!” promises the cover of the first Captain Underpants illustrated children’s book, written by Dav Pilkey and published in 1997, and Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie passes the torch.
Told through computer animation, but also hand-drawn, and—happily—with a sock-puppet sequence, it’s rambunctious, along the lines of the Lego or Despicable Me movies, flinging fresh jokes and new ideas every few seconds. Many of these are cheerfully clever, or at least cheerful. For all the chaos, however, it never feels desperate or exhausting, and it doesn’t feel like it’s trying to sell something. Its main themes are the value of friends and laughter, and it sticks to those throughout.
Best friends George (voiced by Kevin Hart) and Harold (Thomas Middleditch) love playing pranks at school and drawing Captain Underpants comics at home. Thanks to a hypnotizing ring, they turn their miserable principal, Krupp (Ed Helms), into a real-life version of their superhero creation. Just in time, since evil scientist Professor Poopypants (Nick Kroll)—the name is funnier in context—has launched an evil plan to stifle all laughter.
This is the kind of movie that includes fart jokes, but also includes its own built-in critique and aesthetic appreciation of fart jokes. “The lowest form of comedy,” one character says, while in another scene, a collection of whoopee cushions is used to create a soul-stirring symphony.