“Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie” is an adaptation of the children’s book series of the same name. The film stars Kevin Hart and Thomas Middleditch as two elementary schoolers who hypnotize their mean principle (Ed Helms) into becoming a superhero. Nick Kroll, Jordan Peele and Kristen Schaal also star as David Soren directs.
I was actually a big fan of this series growing up, so with it finally getting a film it completes the trifecta of my top three favorite children books getting big screen adaptions (the other two being “Harry Potter” and “A Series of Unfortunate Events”). And maybe it’s because this series is aimed at six-year-olds and I’m, you know, not six, but the long overdue film version of “Captain Underpants” just isn’t that fun or inventive and commits the biggest movie sin possible: it’s boring.
This only cost $38 million to produce as part of an experiment by DreamWorks to see if they could create a cheap but successful animated film (may as well start with a brand name item to guarantee at least some business). To put that into perspective, most animated films cost around $125 million to make, and companies like Illumination take flack for only making their films for $75 million and getting lazy with some of the animations.
The lower budget here is felt, as a lot of the motions and scenes are flat and uncreative. Characters flail around and don’t really interact with their environment because that would cost money. This looks like a straight-to-DVD film from 2003, which is when this film should have been released; I don’t think too many kids even know about Captain Underpants nowadays. There are a few humorous moments where the film implements real stock footage of a tiger or sock puppets, but when the best scenes of your animated film are the ones that aren’t animated, that’s a red flag.
The voice acting here is uninspired and a lot of the time just downright awkward. Kevin Hart and Thomas Middleditch have seemingly no chemistry despite supposedly being best friends, and I get that the two likely recorded their lines in different booths on different days but look at a film like “Boss Baby;” the dynamic between Alec Baldwin and child actor Miles Bakshi felt genuine and they came across as real characters. I’m not sure if it is Nicholas Stroller’s script or Hart and Middleditch just not caring but their performances are hardly up-to-par with both other animated films and their own previous works.
I know I’m not the demographic for this film, I get that, but I have never subscribed to the “it’s a kids film so it’s OK that it’s stupid” because that is just an excuse for filmmakers to make bad movies with minimum effort just to make money. The good animated films, and even the second-tier ones, have jokes for both adults and kids and don’t just make a character run around and scream or fart when they can’t think of a clever way to end a scene.
There were kids in my theater laughing here or there, but even they didn’t seem to be overly enjoying “Captain Underpants: The Epic First Movie.” I got a brief sense of nostalgia watching one of my favorite childhood heroes finally get his place on the big screen, but about 40 minutes in I felt my eyes getting heavy and my head slowly dropping, and at the same time my friend then leaned over to me and said “I’d so rather be in ‘Boss Baby’.” Truest words have never been spoken.
Critics Rating: 3/10