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In a time when "toilet humor" in a movie usually means a hapless character being covered in excrement, it's a refreshing surprise that the animated "Captain Underpants" gets considerable mileage out of jokes about actual toilets.
The movie, derived from Dav Pilkey's popular children's-book series, centers on fourth-grade pals George Beard (voiced by Kevin Hart) and Harold Hutchins (voiced by Thomas Middleditch), the class clowns of Jerome Horwitz Elementary. They've been pals since kindergarten, sharing a mutual love of lowbrow humor. (They bonded when, during a teacher's lecture on the planets, they both snickered at the mention of Uranus.)
The boys' greatest creation is a series of comic books George is the writer, Harold is the artist detailing the exploits of a superhero, Captain Underpants, who fights for "truth, justice and all things pre-shrunk and cottony." Their books usually wind up confiscated by Principal Krupp (voiced by Ed Helms), who runs the school like a prison where laughter is forbidden.
Krupp tries to get evidence on George and Harold for their pranking, always without success. That is, until their humorless classmate Melvin Sneedly (voiced by Jordan Peele) aims a nanny-cam at them when they sabotage Melvin's robot-toilet invention. When Krupp has the goods on the boys and threatens to end their friendship by sending them to different classes, George panics and does something radical: He uses a hypno ring to make Krupp believe that he is Captain Underpants.
The boys soon learn turning their principal into a half-naked superhero with no superpowers has its good and bad points. But it gets even more complicated when Krupp, as principal, hires a new science teacher (voiced by Nick Kroll), who turns out to be a mad scientist bent on ridding the world of laughter. (When we learn the scientist's name, we understand why he hates laughter so much.)
Director David Soren ("Turbo") and screenwriter Nicholas Stiller ("Storks") synthesizes the first four of Pilkey's series, but keeps their silly, anarchic spirit intact. With George and Harold narrating the story, the movie breaks into goofy sequences like explaining the demise of the boys' friendship via sock puppets. And, as fans of the books will appreciate, the movie's climactic action sequence is partially rendered in "flip-o-rama," the bargain-basement animation technique used once in each book.
Yes, the humor of "Captain Underpants" is juvenile, but in this case that's a compliment. This is a movie for the inner 8-year-old in all of us. If you snickered when the teacher said "Uranus," you'll probably laugh at this, too.
'Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie'
Two troublemaking kids turn their principal into a superhero in this surprisingly funny animated movie.
Where • Theaters everywhere.
When • Opens Friday, June 2.
Rating • PG for mild rude humor throughout.
Running time • 89 minutes.