I never grew up reading the Captain Underpants book series by Dave Pilkey; they were as us old-folks say “before my time.” Still, something about the trailer spoke to me, and I found myself watching the film Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie (2017).
In the film, best friends Harold and George, a storyteller-artist tandem obsessed with creating comic books, find themselves at odds with their fascist Principal Krupp. The Principal is obsessed with order, structure, and efficiency; all of which come at the expense of his student’s creativity, and innovation. With the use of a cereal-box hypno-ring, the two hypnotize Principal Krupp into believing he is the embodiment of their comic book magnum opus, Captain Underpants. With Captain Underpants as their principal, their harmless pranks become a welcomed addition to school, and art and music are returned to the school curriculum. They spend their day helping the Captain blend in as a convincing principal, and making sure he does not accidentally return to his natural Krupp state.
Professor Poopypants, the other villain in the book, is obsessed with ridding the world – or at least Jerome Horwitz Elementary School of laughter – something he detests because of the snickers his name generates. The evil science masquerades as teacher and grows increasingly frustrated with the Captain Underpants run school – where an unchecked Harold and George excel in bringing laughs to the classroom. Eventually he loses it, and devises a plan to turn all children into mindless, humorless, zombies.
With the aid of Captain Underpants, Harold and George defeat Dr. Poopypants and his evil inventions. While the Captain acquires actual superpowers from toxic-toilet waste, Harold and George assist through remaining true to themselves. An important theme in its own right, absent from far too many superhero films. The film succeeds where so many other films, especially those aimed at adults seem to fail. The story was on point. It was not over convoluted, and it stayed focused on the theme of friendship. In fact, the filmmakers behind The Mummy (2017)) would be wise to take note of director Soren and screenwriter Stroller’s successes. While George and Harold are not fans of Principal Krupp, nor do they share him vision of public education, they begin to empathize with him when they take a closer look at his life and recognize that maybe he is the way he is, because he does not have any friends. In the end of the film, both decide to help their nemesis score a date with the lunch lady so he will be less lonely.
Yes, the film was made for children. As I watched the film, I could not help feel that this children’s film does a better job of tackling the issues of free speech and censorship – a discussion more relevant than ever – in a way no other film really has. Then again Captain Underpants is no stranger to controversy. The books literary merits have been criticized, and have a history of being banned in school libraries. Most likely for the books crude bathroom-style humor and for what I can only assume is encouraging children to wear their undergarments outside their clothes. But the film drives home two key points regarding censorship to its young audiences.
First – the freedom of expression is a powerful tool. Not only is to be used to combat Tyranny (as Harold and George rely upon their super-human comic book creation skills to attempt to overthrow the Evil Poopypants), but as an invaluable instrument in an individual’s pursuit of happiness. The second point they make – something stand-up comedians around the country have been trying to make for years now – that there is a difference between laughing AT someone and laughing WITH someone.
Overall, the film was an enjoyable one, and I would recommend it to anyone with kids. The story is simple, and enjoyable. The characters are honest and original. The humor will be the only sticking points for the “aristocrats” out there; so those of you out there who do not appreciate “low-brow humor” need not watch.