Monday, May 20, 2024

Second Chance Sundays: ‘Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie’

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We’re in a weird place right now both personally and industry-wise. The COVID-19 pandemic has upended almost every system by revealing flaws and cracks we either knew existed or had stubbornly ignored.  While many of us face quarantine it has become a time of reflection and in the case of film critics a time to get creative while Hollywood decides how to proceed.

So here at The Fandomentals we present Second Chance Sundays and Whatever Wednesdays.  On Second Chance Sundays I will take a movie previously reviewed and take another crack at it. I’ll be looking at movies I loved, hated, or just felt meh about. I think Whatever Wednesdays speak for themselves. This only temporary until everything settles down somewhat.

My review for Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie is a strange one. Not because I hated the movie but because I had admitted to falling asleep numerous times and yet still gave the movie a positive review overall. The reason was I didn’t blame the movie for me falling asleep so much as my own bad time management and stress owing to visiting family.

I’m happy to say I was wide awake during my rewatch of David Soren’Captain Underpants and loved it every second of it. While only a few years old the movie seems as fresh and earnest as it dis when it first came out. It is the rare parody that loves what it’s poking fun at while also finding new and interesting ways to expand on the joke.

Based on the series of children’s books by Dav Pikey, and adapted by Nicholas Stoller, Captain Underpants breezes along and never misses a step with its irreverent humor and surprisingly heartwarming portrayal of two best friends. The humor is reminiscent of Mel Brooks ore The Three Stooges in which chaos reigns and you never know how a scene will end once it’s begun. The jokes come at us like buckshot and almost all hit their target.

George (Kevin Hart) and Harold (Thomas Middleditch) want little from life except to be allowed to draw their comics and have fun. George is the story man and Harold is the illustrator, together with dream up the type of stories you’d expect a couple of third graders to invent. Their favorite hero being Captain Underpants, a bald egg-shaped fellow with superpowers who wears tightie-whities. “Superheroes are always flying around with their underwear on the outside so we just made one who only wears underwear.”

The charm of Captain Underpants beside its whimsy and scatterbrained sense of humor is it’s a very real ode to childhood. Soren and Stoller nail the near-boundless energy children of that age have as well as the sheer aw they hold the world around them. Adults are the enemy because they represent authority and usually are the ones telling them they can’t do something.

Fitting then that their principal Mister Krupp (Ed Helms) is their nemesis. A dictator more than a principal he rules George and Harold’s elementary school with a Stalin like zeal. The children mope around the halls as if all the life has been sucked right out of them. One running gag is a kid George and Harold keep meeting as he shoves himself into his own locker. 

The plot of Captian Underpants is straightforward and obvious. Having finally gotten the proof he needs to punish George and Harold for their pranks, Krupp sentences them to separate classes. The anxiety this decision induces and the over the top scenarios George and Harold concoct are an example of what I mean about the film’s understanding of children.

Any older and the boys wouldn’t be so worried. But in elementary school, most of the time spent with friends is in classes, being put in separate classes, while not actually be the end of the world, it might as well be for children of that age. So the boys break into Krupp’s office to try and steal the evidence only to be caught. In a last-ditch effort to save their own bacon George grabs a plastic ring found in a cereal box and hypnotizes Krupp into being Captain Underpants.

Captain Underpants operates on the very strict and immutable logic that there is no logic. Soren and Stoller imbue a heedless sense of anarchy making it impossible to take anything seriously. A substitute teacher arrives by the name of Professor Poopypants (Nick Kroll) who wants to rid the world of laughter and there’s your third act climax.

My opinion really hasn’t changed other than I liked it more when I was awake. But Captain Underpants underneath all its unseriousness has some very real things to say about the current state of our education system. Primarily the way we treat it less of a way to get kids curious about the world around them and more to get them to memorize dates and facts to regurgitate.

As George and Harold give us the tour of their school they pass a room in the midst of a class lesson. The teacher opens up her book and addresses the class, “Okay today we are going to learn about history. Write down and memorize these dates. She then proceeds to rattle off a list of years for the children to know. The kids will know when things happened but have no idea as to why or how.

Soren and Stoller’s satire is surreal and absurd as they break the fourth wall, build it back up again, only so they can demolish it once more. It is remarkable the different animation styles they have incorporated into one story. From the traditional computer-generated 3d, to hand-drawn 2d, to live-action sock puppet, and to hand-drawn 3d. 

For all its wackiness and everything and the kitchen sink style of comedy, Captian Underpants is a shockingly easy-going movie. Its characters may be hyperactive but the Soren imbues a laid back vibe so it never becomes grating or too much. It’s kinetic of it never comes off as if it’s trying to be, it just is. 

Though the scene in which a crazed mechanical toilet begins firing dozens of rolls of toilet paper into the student body seemed like a waste of a precious national resource. I couldn’t help laughing as a scene that I loved had taken on an eerily prescient tone as when George and Harold make a pact. 

Harold spits into his hands and holds it out. George looks on horrified. “That’s deeply unsanitary!” Truer words were never spoken.

Captain Underpants is a kaleidoscopic brightly colored distraction perfect for these downtrodden and stressful times. Its zaniness isn’t forced and its heart is always in the right place. What else could you possibly want from a movie called Captain Underpants?

Image courtesy of 2oth Century

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