Of all the surprises to emerge this year, it’s doubtful that anyone would have been looking at Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie with much hope that it would succeed. But here we are, approaching the end of summer 2017, and Captain Underpants has surpassed all expectation by proudly and unironically standing the funniest comedy of the year so far.
Adapted from American author Dav Pilkey’s long-running series of revered children’s books, the dim-witted underwear sporting hero (Ed Helms) faithfully leaps off the page with a hefty dose of toilet comedy and meta-humour at the expense of the current superhero movement to roast the innate silliness of it all without feeling patronising or overly clever.
Toilet humour is a hard game to pull off in comedy, and if it’s not timed right or revelled in enough can feel cheap or lazy. But the film’s world of an elaborate cartoon parading as reality is what we are guided through by our young BFF heroes, George Beard (Kevin Hart) and Harold Hutchins (Thomas Middleditch), and respects and throws everything it has at the audience. The pace of the film never lets up with at least one gut buster per minute averaging out over its mercifully short runtime – merciful only because should it continue for much longer the audience would be left a dry husks incapable of breathing properly for a week.
This might only be David Soren’s second film after the misfire that was 2013’s Turbo, but it makes far better use of his talents as an overseer regarding the films timing, its snappy editing and mindboggling use of different animation techniques to tell the story, which vary from the speedy and well drawn computer-animation, to 2D renderings of comic book panels and one sequence involving actual sock puppets of all things. Nicholas Stoller’s screenplay is a brilliant piece of childish nonsense that delights in thrilling and tickling the funny bones of the audience through its dialogues and absurd sequences of invention.
The performances are rock solid and dedicated from everyone, and while Middleditch might have a lower that usual vocal register for a fourth-grade student, he and Hart share a believable sounding chemistry between the two best friends. Nick Kroll is a spectacularly over-the-top German-accented villain with a preposterous title, and Ed Helms appears to be pulling out all the stops as both the title character and his disgruntled principal counterpart in one of his very best performances.
Captain Underpants is a hysterically reverent family film that while ostensibly aimed at a much younger audience is going to bring the grownups in the audience much more joy than they might ever be expecting. It’s bright, clever, loud and incredibly funny in a way few films of this calibre in the animation field (outside of Pixar) can often hope to achieve, and while it never sets its sights on higher goals or themes beyond the general bonds of friendship and the value of laughter, it hits its beats with rapid succession and doesn’t wind down till the credits roll. Don’t be shocked if this ends up being of many ‘best of’ lists by the end of the summer.