I believe movies should make less sense. Movies are not real life, so they should not be bound by the confines of our physical reality. It’s a harder philosophy to get other adults behind. They want explanations for everything, sticking to strict mythology from pre-existing source material and rigid rules for any sort of matrix that allows characters to defy physics. Kids get it though and Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie show’s the joy of not taking stories so seriously.
George (Kevin Hart) and Harold (Thomas Middleditch) are friends who write comic books together. Their mean principal Mr. Krupp (Ed Helms) threatens to separate them, but a hypnosis ring allows the boys to turn Krupp into their comic book creation, Captain Underpants. They can even turn him back and forth at will.
The whole movie breaks the fourth wall so it should be no surprise when the other three walls go down too. There are old standards like having George and Harold address the audience, changing styles of animation and commenting on movie tropes like montages. There are some modern updates, like a whoopie cushion musical number that ends with a meta movie joke that’s highbrow by comparison. It’s basic meta to me but it will blow a five-year-old’s mind and they will hopefully grow up to create grown-up meta art.
Captain Underpants is wonderfully irreverent, to the degree it even satirizes its own satire. Harold is already on a tangent telling a story with sock puppets, but then takes an additional diversion with robots. Captain Underpants is itself a commentary on all superhero costumes, which George and Harold already think look like underwear. There’s a twist on the cat stuck in a tree I’ve never seen before.
While there are no rules to how George and Harold tell the story, they do stick to the rules they establish for turning Mr. Krupp into Captain Underpants. The film addresses how it’s unsustainable. Water turns Captain Underpants back into Mr. Krupp and ultimately there is water everywhere. They can’t keep him dry forever.
The animation is very busy, but it pays off in some of the ramped up sugar highs and slapstick crises. Captain Underpants definitely embraces being a cartoon, not trying to simulate anything real. The human characters are oblong and look nothing like a real person. It’s intended to be a shiny noisemaker for very young kids, but in a sophisticated way.
It is decidedly boy humor too. Fart jokes and pranks tend to be the domain of little boys, but it’s just the fact that it’s all about a male friendship. George and Harold complement each other’s humor in a lovely way, but would it have killed them to be friends with a girl too? There is an absurd sensibility of little girls that we’re missing. She could have made Captain Underpants even crazier.
We’ll see if the other animated summer movie totally aimed at boys is more or less egregious. I certainly want to encourage all children to think outside the box with Captain Underpants. I just feel a little guilty knowing that it’s yet another movie made for me and my hypothetical sons, and my hypothetical wife and hypothetical daughters will feel left out.