George Beard and Harold Hutchins aren’t all that great at being students. In fact, they’re pretty mediocre students. But they’re the best of buds. Best friends who make each other laugh and, well, who are pretty good at coming up with what they consider incredible school pranks, too.
Like, say, the day the Jerome Horwitz Elementary sign mysteriously changed from saying, “Sewage Plant Field Trip Today,” to, “Come See My Hairy Armpits.” Oh yeah, that was them. Or how about the exploding goo in a teacher’s lunch bag fiasco? Yep, they did that. The great girls’ bathroom toilet flood of ’16? Uh huh.
Those practical jokes are the school’s last laughing line of defense against teachers’ tyrannical ways, as far as these pranksters are concerned. Without them, why, the whole student body might just keel over from a lack of fun.
And fun is the key here.
George and Harold just love the fun of exploding things, upchucking things and gaseous things … not to mention drawing raucous pictures of exploding, upchucking and gaseous things. In fact, one of their favorite treehouse co-creations is a series of out-there, exploding, upchucking and gas-passing comics they call *The Adventures of Captain Underpants.
Of course, none of that really awesome backstory matters all that much right now. Because today they’ve been dragged into Principal Krupp’s office. He’s the only other person who knows about Captain Underpants, since he’s confiscated at least half of the boys’ comics. And it doesn’t look like he’s in a mood to give them back today.
From the way the principal is huffing and puffing like an over-stoked furnace, to the way his red face and bugged-out eyes make his hairpiece look like a small dancing octopus on his head, the guys can tell he’s just a wee bit upset. Could it have been that little toxic spill in the lunchroom that they caused?
What Mr. Krupp does next, though, hits these pals with the unexpected force of one of their own pranks: He says he was just signing an official order to have them … separated. Separate classes, separate gym periods, separate lunch times, even separate detention rooms should the need arise.
Why, they’ll never see each other again! It’s the end of the world as they know it!! Something has to be done!!!
That’s when George makes the biggest decision of his life.
Like a slo-mo camera shot that you’d see in some crazy action movie, Harold watches as George’s hand slowly reaches into his pocket and pulls out his most prized possession. Their eyes connect—George’s determined, Harold’s unsure. Then George rips the cellophane wrapper off of the most powerful item to ever be found in a box of sugar-frosted doodles: the plastic hypno-ring.
As Harold calls out a super-slow “N-o-o-o-o!” George slips the ring on his finger, points it’s swirling patterned face toward the incrementally recoiling Mr. Krupp. And as the incredible hypno-magic fills the air and the principal falls back in his chair the boys realized that their device has truly hypnotized their tormenting teacher.
And when they soon spot a discarded comic that they’d previously created, an idea strikes them both at the same time: They’ll command Principal Krupp to take on the persona of none other than Captain Underpants himself. And …
Well, of course it works. I mean, there wouldn’t be a movie otherwise, right?
George and Harold would go to any lengths for each other. (Of course the fact that those “lengths” generally involve lots of catastrophes that upend school life isn’t quite so positive.)
This kid flick also lightly suggests that rabid sugar consumption and totally unsupervised kid craziness doesn’t end well. And it leaves the impression that making fun of someone can have a negative effect.
A musical line from Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus” plays beneath one short scene. The magical, hypnotic effect of George’s ring is never explained, but we do know that a splash of water will bring the principal out of his alternate-mind state, while a subsequent finger snap will send him back.
None. (Unless, that is, you can somehow envision an egg-shaped cartoon principal in his tightie-whitie undies as something other than just silly.)
As Principal Krupp/Captain Underpants bounds off mindlessly into the world dressed only in a large pair of white underpants, plenty of thumping mayhem ensues. He gets hit by passing vehicles on a couple of occasions. He leaps off tall structures thinking he can fly. (He can’t.) He bounces around town on a giant ape balloon. He falls out of the sky onto the backs of some running criminals. He punches a mime in the face while trying to break him out of an invisible box. He throws an old lady up into a tree after her cat.
That slapsticky violence is only amplified when a new school teacher named Professor Poopypants joins the rollicking nonsense. The prof gets hit by passing vehicles, too. He creates scientific mechanisms, such as a shrinking/growing ray, that cause all sorts of damage. He also creates a gigantic animated toilet that’s filled with and powered by toxic waste. (Captain Underpants is thrown into this toilet at one point and swallows some of that glowing sludge.)
The prof shoots energy rays at school children, wiping their minds clear of thought. A flood of smaller, enlivened toilets takes to the streets, biting backsides and gobbling people whole. Goopy things explode, hitting people in the face with a gush. Buildings are uprooted and smashed. A vision of the future involves robots with lasers zapping people and each other.
At least 10 exclamations of “oh my gosh” and one of the phrase, “What the heck?”
[Spoiler Warning] Captain Underpants accidentally gulps down toxic waste water that gives him actual superpowers.
The fact that the main bad guy in this pic is named P.P. Diarrheastein Poopypants Esquire, should give you a sense of the main, uh, flush of the humor. Urination is sung about. Underwear is shot in people’s faces. Kids guffaw repeatedly over the planet Uranus, and a chorus of them perform a gas-powered overture, etc.
On other fronts, George and Harold defy the rules repeatedly. They break into someone’s house and snoop around. Principal Krupp meanly tells them “Your parents are obviously failures.”
With villains like Tippy Tinkletrousers, the Bionic Booger Boy and Wedgie Woman in their pages, the Captain Underpants comic books were never going to be accepted as top-notch educational tomes for kids. In fact, all they ever had up their proverbial pant leg was a collection of zany, sketch-like cartoons and a whole lot of goofy poo-poo humor.
Now that’s been translated to the big screen.
Anyone who’s ever seen a modern comedy knows there are different gradations of toilet humor that can dribble to the screen. Gags range from wink-and-stink giggles all the way down to excremental explosions. Captain Underpants lands on the occasionally creative, but eye-rollingly silly side of that odious scale.
For a very slim segment of the populace—say, grade schoolers who consider a wet palm under a flapping arm to be high art—this pic will likely be a winner. For the rest of us, who might get dragged to this flick by our kids against our better judgement, well, there’s always a sleep mask and a good travel pillow.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.