There’s a lot of buzz surrounding this film’s eccentric charisma. Not only does it have a plethora of positive reviews from critics, but audience members have generally given their input through two big thumbs up. Oftentimes, they cite the expressiveness of the animation or the wit of the writing—one that shows they’re smarter than the average toilet. Both points, along with others, are all valid in theory, however there’s something I, as a fan of the original book series, can’t help but point out.
Another common point of agreement is that the film is faithful to the original book series. To what degree, I’m unsure, but the big, bold letters show that many believe this somewhat vague statement. While Captain Underpants does share a lot of common points with its source material, there’s something also inherently different; or perhaps I should say some things.
I have no recollection that the book series had so much meta humor. No recollection of Harold being a random doofus. No recollection of Krupp having a love interest or that his grumpiness was, even to some degree, justified by his loneliness. A number of changes take place that make me question the validity of the statement of its faithfulness. In my eyes, it’s more faithful to the standard transition of adaptations that a collection of writers go through to make something as streamlined as possible. The film oozed the aura of following what’s trendy within successful films, perhaps most notably from Marvel films.
This fascination with making the source material more “modern” is something that ultimately ruins the experience for those who harken back to the original titles. Captain Underpants as a book series is simple, effective, and filled to the brim with potty humor. There are some jabs that align with the film’s writing, but it was evened out with all mentions of underpants. How the film upends this sort of simple approach may be deemed necessary by some, with its simplistic originality too straightforward to be used as a 90-minute film sequence. For me, the way they took the foundation of Captain Underpants and sculpted it into their own beast is almost insulting to Dav Pilkey’s original work.
Writing aside, no one can question the vitality of the animation present. By far the most impressive quality of Captain Underpants is the art and animation, which takes a lot of chances in terms of presentation and comedic timing, as well as embedding a shot of creativity in each scene. However, by the halfway point, it begins to fester together in a bright mesh and no longer seems all that impressive. Not to mention, there are a number of scenes that are almost dizzying in their grandiloquence. The science fair scene in particular, once Melvin’s device spins out of control, results in a rainbow orgy of spastic movement and flashing lights. I never felt more tired getting through a single scene!
Even so, it’s hard to overlook how modernly simplistic the writing, which aims to not be so, becomes due to the oversaturation of meta hype within animated features in recent years. Everything feels forced in a way that both improves and contradicts its key motivation in entertaining and enlightening the audience. Scenes in which George and Harold are fondly reminiscing of their past (without the stupid dolphin jokes) or trying to control Captain Underpants speak to a level of simplicity that allows me to enjoy the film for what it is at its core: stupid fun. Trying to embellish it with meta humor, almost parody-like sequences, or random references destroys the essence of what the original book series felt like it wanted to do. Which is unfortunate, because this film is by no means bad. It simply shoots itself in the foot constantly with its “smarter than thou” attitude.
Almost like dressing a ninja in bright yellow to be artistic. It defeats the point entirely.
Final Score: 5/10
The rating for all other films can be found at Letterboxd.