I’m “biast” (con): not a fan of toilet humor
I have not read the source material
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
There is no bigger unfan of toilet humor than yours truly. So what the heck was I doing at a screening of a kiddie movie entitled Captain Underpants? Laughing my head off and being thoroughly charmed, to my very great surprise. I’m still trying to figure out precisely how this absolutely delightful little movie gets it right, but I’m zeroing in on how it somehow manages to engage a kindergarten-level sense of humor without pandering to it, and by mining huge glee out of its own amusement rather than what has generated that amusement. Or maybe by dealing with the source of that amusement as so absurdly outrageous that you cannot possibly take the slightest bit of grownup offense at it. A gigantic toxic-waste-filled cyborg toilet that has spouted legs and is stomping around town? How wonderfully silly.
I’m not sure any of my reasoning even makes sense. Like I said, I’m still trying to figure it out. But the heart and soul of the funny stuff here is unquestionably the enormous enjoyment grade-schoolers George (the voice of Kevin Hart [The Secret Life of Pets, Ride Along 2], who is less cartoonish here than he is in live-action films) and Harold (the voice of Thomas Middleditch: Kong: Skull Island, The Wolf of Wall Street) get out of their best-friendship, and in particular their shared sense of humor. Together, they create homemade comics — George writes; Harold draws — about the adventures of their invented superhero, Captain Underpants. (The joke in their minds, and it’s based on a wise observation, is that all superheroes look like they’re running or flying around in their underwear anyway, so why not have a guy who does exactly that?) “It’s like we’re the same person, but so so different,” George notes with awe about their friendship. The super-sweetest thing about this very goofy movie might be how they make each other laugh: the joy that fills their hysterics is infectious. This is a movie more full of sheer simple happiness than any other recent movie I can recall. It’s nice in the best, most unironic way.
Not that there isn’t plenty of trouble, drama, and snarky subversion going on! One of the ways in which George and Harold amuse themselves is by pulling pranks at their school, which has earned them the enmity of their principal, Mr. Krupp (the voice of Ed Helms: Love the Coopers, Vacation). And, you know, fair enough: some of those pranks might have been dangerous! But their pranks are also clever and inventive, which are qualities that Krupp does not like in children. He’s not merely the boys’ mortal enemy, he’s actually also evil… because he shut down the school’s arts and music programs, which made the drudgery of school all the more drudgerier. But Harold and George bring back some of the fun when — in an attempt to avoid a grueling punishment for their latest jape — they hypnotize Krupp into believing that he is Captain Underpants. (They achieve this via a plastic hypno-ring from a box of breakfast cereal, because that’s the kind of movie this is.)
And then Underpants — based on Dav Pilkey’s series of kids’ books — transforms into a parody of superhero movies, one that cheerfully undermines everything about them, but mostly their seriousness. Harold and George break the fourth wall to chat with us and to each other, sometimes detouring action sequences into riotous narrative tangents. The sublevels of their wild imaginations get their own styles of animation (the sock-puppet one is my favorite). The meta is strong with them. It’s all absolutely hilarious.
I wish all kids’ movies — and more movies for adults, too — were this much plain fun.