Combustible Celluloid
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With: Kevin Hart, Ed Helms, Nick Kroll, Thomas Middleditch, Jordan Peele, Kristen Schaal (voices)
Written by: Nicholas Stoller, David Soren, based on novels by Dav Pilkey
Directed by: David Soren
MPAA Rating: PG for mild rude humor throughout
Running Time: 89
Date: 06/02/2017

Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie (2017)

3 Stars (out of 4)

A Waistband Apart

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

"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, but many of these are cheerfully clever, or at least cheerful.

For all the chaos, however, it never feels desperate or exhausting, and doesn't feel like it's trying to sell something. Its main themes are that friends and laughter are good, and it sticks to that throughout.

Best friends George (voiced by Kevin Hart) and Harold (voiced by 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 (voiced by Ed Helms), into a real-life version of their superhero creation. Just in time, since evil scientist Professor Poopypants — the name is funnier in context — (voiced by Nick Kroll) 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 Whoopie Cushions is used to create a soul-stirring symphony.

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