Film Review: “Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie

Starring the Voices Of: Kevin Hart, Thomas Middleditch and Ed Helms
Directed By: David Soren
Rated: PG
Running Time: 89 minutes
20th Century Fox

Our Score: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

In 2013, 2012, 2005, 2004 and 2002, the “Captain Underpants” books made the American Library Association’s top 10 challenged books. This is a list usually reserved for “Fifty Shades of Grey,” “The Chocolate War,” “Of Mice and Men” and other well-known books. Ironically, “Captain Underpants” place on the list isn’t for its potty humor, but for its insensitivity and because it supposedly encourages children to disobey authority. For fans of the book, or those who don’t see that as a bad thing, you’ll be happy to know the movie keeps that spirit intact.

“Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie” begins with an introduction to George Beard (Hart) and Harold Hutchins (Middleditch). The two fourth graders love to pull pranks and share a creative disregard for their school principal, Benjamin Krupp (Helms). They’ve rebranded him in their comic book, “Captain Underpants,” as made him the title character. He faces off against foes who are also modeled off of other people at the school like annoying teachers, humorless dorks and evil toilets. But the comic hero comes to life when George uses a 3D hypno ring from a cereal box to escape Krupp’s ire. At the snap of their fingers, the stuffy principal dons the iconic white briefs that stretch above the belly button.

There’s an underlying charm to George and Harold’s antics because of how their friendship is birthed through a mutual love for the arts and immature humor. It’s hard not to root for a duo that pulls pranks after being oppressed for expressing themselves in imaginative and comedic ways. Sure it’s humor that makes a man-child giggle and an elementary school classroom roar with laughter, but it’s counterbalanced by witty subtlety. However, even the most juvenile minds might roll their eyes at some of the low hanging fruit “Captain Underpants” happily plucks.

There is some clever wordplay and sight gags for astute viewers. But the majority of fun is from the student and teacher caricatures populating Jerome Horowitz Elementary. Jordan Peele provides the unsavory voice of a teacher’s pet, Kristen Schaal adds a nasal flair to her trademark high pitch when voicing a bashful lunch lady and Nick Kroll uses a stereotypical German accent to voice the film’s ludicrous villain Professor Poopypants. There’s actually a decent reason why his name is so puerile.

Director David Soren plays with different visual styles and animation throughout to keep the eyes drawn to the screen. While the majority of animation is on par with other animated films, moments with sock puppets and sequences that feel like children’s crayon drawings coming to life add to George and Harold’s unique vision. Soren, however, isn’t able to do much with fight and action sequences in the final act that make it memorable.

For a movie about toilet humor, “Captain Underpants” never resorts to grossing out the audience for a cheap laugh and finds a surprising amount of emotional depth in its characters, even the ones that are the butt of the joke. “Captain Underpants” does spend a little bit too much time indulging in its own sophomoric humor when it could have been fine tuning its style a little bit more or focusing on parodying the superhero genre. But if “Captain Underpants” does want to play with the big boys of DC and Marvel, it certainly has the groundwork laid out.

Film Review: “Get Out”

Starring: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams and Catherine Keener
Directed By: Jordan Peele
Rated: R
Running Time: 103 minutes
Universal Pictures

Our Score: 4 out 5 Stars

Something’s not right. It’s not just the subtle and blatant racism by Rose’s (Williams) family, but it’s the growing sense of dread that the audience experiences through the eyes of Chris (Kaluuya). Every other African-American that Chris encounters wears clothes straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting and speaks in uncomfortable pleasantries. Even worse is that when talking to these African-American’s Chris feels like he’s talking with every other white person he’s encountered at the family event.

Despite the blunt, and comedic, warnings of one of his friends, Chris is visiting the relatives of his five-month girlfriend. Rose tells him that she hasn’t mentioned she’s dating a black guy to her family, but she assures him it’s perfectly OK. She even tells him that her father (Bradley Whitford) would have voted for Obama for a third time if he could have. He later shoehorns that racially motivated banter into conversation as a way to get to know her daughter’s new boyfriend, as if her father assumes all black people voted for the 44th President. The awkward remarks and comments aren’t fooling Chris though. Something’s definitely not right.

For those familiar with Jordan Peele, who’s worked in television sketch comedy for over a decade, it might come as a surprise that his directorial debut is satirical horror, that’s a lot heavier on the tension than it is the jokes. The comedy is served up as a way to divide viewer apprehension, which there’s plenty of. Peele has a keen eye for unnerving the audience with numerous close-up shots, specific musical arrangements in even more specific spots, and performances that convey a sinister plot hidden deep in suburbia.

Peele, throughout his comedic career, has dropped muted and blunt horror movies references and “Get Out” is no different. For horror aficionados, there are plenty of nods, homages and stylistic choices reminiscent of Wes Craven, Stanley Kubrick and others. But for those in on the trick of the trade, you’ll find more to “Get Out” than its director’s love of scares as the film progresses. The social and racial commentary is sprinkled throughout and just not in Rose’s eerie, grinning family.

Chris, as well as his friend who keeps in constant contact with back home, seem to be the only ones that understand racism is still a thing. It’s seen early on with a policeman taking a statement after Rose hits a deer with her vehicle. Despite her being the driver, the officer still asks for Chris’ ID. That’s a more obvious statement by the film, but there are plenty of other moments shrouded behind smiling faces and looks, demeaning questions, and using undignified nicknames when talking with Chris.

The boogeyman in “Get Out” isn’t anything supernatural, but very real. As a white man who’s sat through plenty of horror movies, rarely do I ever get two distinct impressions. One, I am the boogeyman. Two, this is what the average black man deals with. The movie even begins with a nod to the Trayvon Martin incident as a black man walks through suburbia at night, thinking out loud about what George Zimmerman is lurking just around the corner.

As politically and socially carnivorous as “Get Out” is, it’s never victimizes black people or vilifies white people. The terror is real, projecting minority’s real world fears onto a plot revolving around body horror, brainwashing and 21st century slavery. It helps that Chris doesn’t find himself in the stereotypical backwoods, but in a picturesque homestead where everyone’s educated, nice and welcoming. But as I stated at the beginning, something’s not right. If “Get Out” is any indication, Peele is not only a refreshing voice for horror, but may have just steered the genre in a completely new direction that’s wildly exciting, scary and ferocious.