Captain Underpants: Embrace Of The Potty Humor
Review by Aaron Haughton
Captains Underpants and I go way back to the early days of elementary school, which in my tainted adult memory felt just as gloomy as the school in the book, Jerome Horwitz Elementary (which, fun fact, is the birth name of Curly Howard -- one of the Three Stooges, for you Millennials). I was in 3rd or 4th grade when the first novel was published, and I took to instantly -- I was already heavy on the absurdism and was labeled the class clown, a buffonish pariah who only got the attention of the student body when operating in jest. So, needless to say, George Beard and Harold Hutchins were instantly identifiable to me.
Now, I didn't stay a kid forever, of course, and moved on to the more adult ventures, such as Ren and Stimpy or The Simpsons or South Park, rather quickly. And so I maybe only sunk my teeth into the first one, really, but I did have a younger brother, and he, too, had taken a shine to them and was able to enjoy them for longer.
Flash forward. I'm in the 6th grade. I'm definitely off the Captain Underpants books at this point because I thought they were kid shit -- after all, my brother was on them pretty heavy, which served as a major turning off point for me, and I had already abandoned J.K. Rowling and her ridiculously heavy Harry Potter series, too, even -- but I had a sleepless night that would not cease, and so I thought a good way to kill time would be with my brother's Captain Underpants book, which happened to be the fourth book in the series, The Perilous Plot of Professor Poopypants. I remembered my brother mentioning that it had a chart that enabled you to change your name to something ludicrously raunchy, and I decided that I'd just jump straight to that to kill my sleepless unease.
I thought this chart was dimwittedly genius, and in my sleepless lunacy, I decided I would change all the names for everyone in my entire class, including myself and my gestapo teacher, Mrs. Mohler, recording all of them on a piece of notebook paper.
The next day, I took the folded up note containing my 6th grade class's new names to school so I could break it out during recess, but I was and still am a hopelessly impatient fuck. I broke the note out at the first opportune moment, and soon had a swarm of kids around me, wanting to know their name and laughing at each others.
Well, my teacher -- I mentioned she was Nazi-esque, loosely -- well, she didn't like that. In fact, she demanded I go to the principal's office to phone my mom so that I could read her the defamatory note while she stood over me. My mom, she was generally not so Nazi-esque, and she started laughing hysterically as I ran down the line of names, starting with Mrs. Mohler herself (or Poopsie Banana Buns, as the list mandated). My mom, through fits of laughter, managed to sternly tell me, "Don't you laugh. Just read the note and give the phone back to your teacher."
My mom told the teacher she was dumb because the book had come from the school library, and I was left off the hook. However, somewhere in the depths of a personal file on me lies a photocopy of that note... And, they tell you that institutionalized learning isn't a joke...
And but so when I heard a film adaptation was being produced, I was instantly reminded of this stupid wasted-youth memory. I began to become excited to see the result, but given I had outgrown it, I didn't wanna set my expectations too high.
Apparently, this isn't the first attempt at a Captain Underpants film, either. It was actually optioned when the book series first published in 1997, and author Dav Pilkey had Chris Farley in mind to play the infamous Captain Underpants, which would've made for an interesting adaptation; however, Farley passed away shortly thereafter, causing the project to be shelved.
Farley would've been an ideal candidate for a live-action adaption, but the cast for the animated film is still A-list, including the likes of Ed Helms (Principal Krupp), Kevin Hart (George), Thomas Middleditch (Harold), Nick Kroll (Professor P), and even Jordan Peele (Melvin). For those of you that are wholly unfamiliar check out the trailer below:
As you can see, the animation is pretty stellar, and I was so glad that the film embraced the potty humor fully and didn't water it down. Right from the start, the film has a very good idea of what it wants to be and it stick to it. It's even able to stand back and laugh and make fun of itself.
Being the jaded, pseudo-adult I am, there are way more genuinely laughable moments than I initially thought possible, and the story is full of weird touch-and-go, almost vignette-type moments, which keep the attention spans at...uh, attention. This helped to keep the narrative fresh and entertaining. Writer Nick Stroller basically took the stories from the first and fourth books and combined them into one toilet humor epic with Professor Poopypants as the villain (which, fun fact number two, Professor Poopypants' real name in the book is Pippy Pee-Pee Poopypants, but the film version will make you third-act LOL with Stroller's even more poopy changes).
At its core, it's a story about friendship, fighting to keep that friendship intact, and most importantly, being creative. Harold and George must use their power of laughter to not only liberate the school from their oppressive teachers, but defeat the villain, who is overly Trumpian, in that Professor P is someone who’s unable to laugh and doesn’t enjoy being the butt of any jokes, going so far as to make those that laugh at him pay. The characters are two-dimensional, and have a slight, last-minute, hail Mary arc that leaves the film on a high note.
Overall, the film upholds the integrity of the books and nods to the publication elements on several occasions. For instance, during the Flip-O-Rama segment, as Harold steps on the book pages, his footprints leave marks that closely resemble the guide areas in which the reader would place their fingers in order to properly flip through the pages.
Ed Helms does a great job as the joyless Principal Krupp and the ignorantly jovial Captain Underpants. In fact, the film uses Helm's ability to audibly shift between these vastly different characters as a plot device and comedic crutch on several occasions. His duality reminded me of a vocal version of Steve Martin's physical comedy in All Of Me:
On the whole, it's a pleasant movie-going experience that should entertain kids and parents alike. The narrative has the right message, that of friendship and kindness, and promotes unity and the healing power of laughter. I would strongly recommend this one to families, but it'll also be a fun watch for nearly anyone, unless you're a Mr. Krupp type.
Rating: 3.5 elastic-banded tighty whities outta 5.
What did you think? Do you feel like the film version upheld the vibe of the books? We want to know. Share your thoughts and feelings in the comments section below, and, as always, remember to viddy well!