“Tra-la-laaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!” Look up in the sky! It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s. . .it’s. . .a fat, bald guy in his briefs? Based on the popular kids books by Dav Pilkey, this ‘toilet humor’ flick has poop, fart, Uranus, and just about every juvenile joke you can shake a gooey stick at. It’s also a frenetic, fast-paced, candy-colored fun for kids.
Very fourth-wall breaking, we are introduced to the film by two mischievous fourth-graders whose sole purpose is to cause pranks and mayhem at dismal Jerome Horwitz Elementary School. Passionate artists, George Beard and Harold Hutchins (Kevin Hart and Thomas Middleditch) have created a series of homemade Captain Underpants comic books that their extremely mean school principal, Benjamin Krupp (Ed Helms) can’t stand. He also hates George & Harold and finally catches them in the act of another prank, thanks to the school nerd, Melvin (Jordan Peele), and punishes them by classroom separation. Horrors!
But thanks to a magical Hypo-Ring, George manages to zap Mr. Krupp into thinking he’s really the invincible Capt. Underpants! Dumb as a stump and fighting ‘crime’, the bald and nearly-naked principle (except for his tighty-whities) runs around town thinking he’s a superhero, based on the comics he’s confiscated from the boys. George and Harold further find out that water will bring him back to Mr. Krupp (sorta his Kryptonite), but a finger-snap with zap him back to the Captain. Think Danny Kaye’s character in The Court Jester.
At first, the kids are loving their ‘creation’, but an arch-nemesis had to appear, right? Enter the new school science teacher, a criminally insane and hugely moustached little man named (are you ready for this?) Professor Poopypants (Nick Kroll). I kid you not! His evil plan is not to rule the Earth like most villains, but to eliminate all laughter from the world! Why? Because everyone laughs at his name! Duh! Using Melvin and his nerdy no-laughter brain, Professor P. invents an evil Godzilla-sized walking mega-toilet to destroy the town and an anti-laughter super-ray to wipe the minds of the children.
Meanwhile, Captain Underwear (in disguise as Principle Krupp) is having a great time at the school carnival, when a sudden rain blinks him back to reality. Just as the boys are sent away from each other forever, Professor Poopypants (what a killer name!) attacks the school with his ginormous machine. With his nefarious plan succeed? With Principle Krupp strip off his clothing and become the anti-superhero again and save the day? And what about George and Harold and their universal and unshakable love for all things dumb and stupid?
Nicholas Stoller, who wrote both Muppets Most Wanted and Sex Tape, took the wildly imaginative series of kids books and spun it into a very funny and loosey-goosey story that is SO ridiculous and over-the-top, that trying to make any kind of logical sense of it would be a total waste of time. Just like the mind of a 10-year-old on a sugar-rush, the pace is lightning-fast with the primary colors dazzling the eyes as the unique looking CGI characters bounce from one scene to the next. Which is not to say it’s a dumbed-down film and not for adults; far from that. The dialoge is quick and sharp and loaded with inside jokes and aside-references, much of which falls away into the animation ether.
Though it’s nowhere near the hilarity level of Storks or the recent Boss Baby, it’s a kids dream pic with all their humor and, I must admit, some very clever scenes that had me laughing quite a bit. Director David Soren (Turbo) who has done mostly v/o work himself, knew his stuff when getting Ed Helm as Krupp/Underpants. Helm switches back and forth perfectly and has a great pitch for Underpants that is great to listen to. And you can’t go wrong with Hart and Middleditch as the boys; their vocal talents are fluid and awesome together.
You suddenly become a ‘superhero’ through a weird set of circumstances and buy right into all the fame and hype, but how far are you willing to take it? Just ask struggling NYC actor Steven Nichols, played by the late John Ritter, four years before he struck gold with his mega-hit TV show, Three’s Company.
Trying to get a job as an actor in the heart of NYC is tough. Very tough. And part-time cabbie Steve Nichols (Ritter) knows this all too well as he goes out for anything he can: TV commercials, off-off-Broadway plays, and even a small gig dressing up as a goofy comic-book-to-movie-screen superhero called Captain Avenger. Wearing a colorful spandex bodysuit, cape, striped undies, and a blue visor, Steve (along with other actors) sign autographs outside theaters promoting the lousy film. However, he finds his life unexpectedly complicated when he stops a liquor store robbery while still wearing the costume.
Bolstered by the power of doing something good, Steve decides to continue being a ‘superhero’ and discovers that it’s more complex than he initially thought. He’s even got the support of beautiful Jolene (Anne Archer), his apartment neighbor next door. Meanwhile, slimy promoter Walter Reeves (Bert Convy) and the equally sleazy mayor (Kevin McCarthy) have a plan. Captain Avenger saving people means BIG ratings for the mayor and Reeves coerces Steve to continue to “save” people, not only for the good of the city, but for the mayors upcoming election.
Steve, reluctant at first, goes along with fake bank robberies and subway heists, believing all the hype and loving the fame, but Jolene sees through the nonsense. The bubble bursts badly when Capt. Avenger (Steve) is unmasked by the media during a public speech and he’s nearly mobbed by the very people who loved him before. Dishearten and ready to leave town, Jolene begs him to just be himself and not rely on any costume. Fantastically and quite coincidentally, Steve becomes a bona fide hero not an hour later when he rescues a young child from a convenient apartment fire down the street… yes, wearing the costume.
Screenwriter A. J. Carothers is best known for his Disney musical, The Happiest Millionaire and a bunch of TV series like Nanny and the Professor and My Three Sons. Written like an extended sitcom, this trite little fable was silly, lame, and predictable, but it did showcase Ritter’s talent enough to get him noticed for that future TV series. Martin Davidson directed this without any fanfare; just putting the camera down and shooting. This was one of those summer movies that came and went in the blink of an eye that made you wonder why actors take roles like this in the first place. Ritter taking a role about an actor who needs money? Art imitating life imitating art?