If there were any kids’ movie which may as well have a big sign painted on the front that said essentially ‘NO GIRLS ALLOWED’ it would be this one. Like, there’s one woman in the movie, an adult not one of the kids, and even then she’s treated solely as this disposable love interest type character for another male character to pick up. I mean, I read the books, was probably getting too old for them long before I stopped, I don’t remember that there be any girls of note in them, but seriously, could nothing be done? It ain’t just like all the primaries are dudes, there ain’t a single girl in the film who the credits can be bothered to name.
I suppose it’s what you’d be expecting from a film that features a main on end credits song written and performed by Weird Al. Which feels sorta trite, but at the same time Al’s almost in his sixties now and he’s still putting together these sweet little tunes that sound the same as they did ten years ago (honestly I’m thinking Virus Alert from his 2006 album Straight Outta Lynwood [God I’m fucking lame]) and are full of honest integrity. This film, which is, by the way, stupid. Real, reeeeeal stupid and juvenile is honestly one of the purest pieces of cinema that come out all year, like in both senses of the phrase.
So Dav Pilkey’s The Adventures of Captain Underpants came out at that time in the late nineties when the trend in children’s lit took an unexpected turn towards postmodernism. George Beard and Harold Hutchins are two schoolchildren who, in an attempt to stay out of trouble after one of their pranks goes awry, hypnotise their principle Mr Krupp into believing that he’s Captain Underpants, a comic book character of their own invention.
The books would be this sorta loose, wild dialogue between the narrator who comes across a bit sharp and his characters, who attempt to wind the narrative in their direction. Like the Series of Unfortunate Events books, but instead of the defined structures that Snicket as a narrator builds, Pilky’s worlds are engaged in perpetual self-destruction, a gleeful dare to be cruder or sillier so long as it’s actually doing something new.
And, like, the film actually does that. David Soren, director, is just going wild here. I look and the film apparently is super cheap by Dreamworks standards. I get it, the sets are super small. The design, which might possibly be the best 2D to 3D conversion of an aesthetic I’ve ever seen, don’t have too many fancy effects going on. What the film do got going on is this wild gleeful invention. Like every new sequence, every new space, is designed to depart from what we’ve seen before. Whoever was lighting got to have all the fun of pulling the most stupid and outlandish cues ever. There bits, and I don’t wanna ruin them because the bits be so damn good, when the film changes its very form, just because it feel that desperate need to be different.
You combine that with the kiddy stuff and it sounds despicable. It might be, but there weren’t really a single point where I wasn’t laughing at something. I think I might feel about this the way that some people feel about the minions. Like, people be arguing that the minions are the closest we be getting to the old Warner shorts, but they don’t make me laugh. The slapstick in this just so much better. Voices too, Kevin Hart and Thomas Middleditch just shine as these two dumb kids, like there so much life in them. Voice is like the perfect place for Hart’s vibrant theatricality and so Middleditch gets to be the more laconic of the two and it so right.
Needs to be because their friendship is at the heart of the movie. Cause as wicked outrageous as the whole game be it don’t really be about Captain Underpants. He’s a constant, but the real message here is just one of the nicest and sweetest things that has come outta Dreamworks in ever, or at least since the original Kung Fu Panda. Cos the story is about the joy of creation, and specifically the joy of creation in collaboration.
Like, these kids whole thing is making comics together, when the principle threatens to separate them it ain’t their friendship in abstract that they worried about. These two understand that they need each other in order to fulfil their potential, in order to bring beauty into the world. When they threatened they just about can’t cope, there this subplot touched on for just a second about the school’s art funding and how they use the captain, disguised as his alter ego, the principle, to bring back the school’s art program. And how accepting and supportive they are, George keeps on adding dolphin ideas into their work and Harold just rolls with it because he know that’s what his bro into right now. Oh my God it the cutest thing, it make me wanna cry.
This thing got Nicholas Stoller on the script too, fresh off of last year’s Storks which convinces me that that weren’t a fluke. I mean it really seem like animation his scene. He seems to have internalised all the right things about The Lego Movie and Lord and Miller’s hyperactive style and can push it out into a coherent screenplay, you know he directed Bad Neighbours 2 though? So he should have his head screwed on better when it comes to representing women in his features.
Despite that I love this film. I adore it. It gives me life. It’s out of control and has far too many ideas for one film to contain even though the housing it stretches around them is so unremarkable. It’s bursting at the seams with all the love it has for every moment it decides to put on screen. Like, I can talk about how the editing so smooth, but I got no way of articulating how it all falls together to create liquid joy.
There’s a scene in here where the film’s so excited by itself it starts giving itself five star reviews. It knew what was going on, I ain’t gonna judge it for being premature.
Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie is currently screening in UK cinemas.