CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS: THE FIRST EPIC MOVIE review

Unlike a lot of kids, I actually never read the books this movie is based on. Can’t exactly explain why. I always had an interest, but I never made the time or any real effort to read them. So, to be completely honest, I have no idea what they were about. I actually assumed it was about a little kid with superpowers who saved older kids from whatever was terrorizing them.

I see that the movie is very different from my preconceptions. It looks like it’s about two kids who are notorious pranksters. One day, they go too far and their mean principal threatens to keep them apart in separate classrooms to prevent their diabolical schemes. Genuinely afraid to be apart, they hypnotize their principal via ridiculously random magic ring into believing that he is the kids’ personal superhero creation, Captain Underpants, who goes around fighting crime and monsters that don’t exist, until a real threat comes along for him to save the day.

I have to admit… I don’t think this looks good. I mean, I can appreciate DreamWorks keeping the animation the same style as the books, but man, I do not buy these voice actors as kids. Even if the movie happens to be really good, which I’m not holding my breath for, Kevin Hart and Thomas Middleditch will distract the living daylights out of me for how much they do not sound like kids. Look, I know Hart is a short dude with a high pitched voice, but he still doesn’t sound like a kid. He sounds like a high-pitched voiced adult. But hey, I’ll keep my mind open. DreamWorks has done amazing work in the past. But for every few great films, they’ve got one bad one too. Initial thoughts are: not a good movie.

But let’s take a look at the voice talent. As previously stated, we have Hart (THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS [2016], GET HARD [2015], GRUDGE MATCH [2013], and upcoming films JUMANJI: WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE [2017] and RIDE ALONG 3, due out… who knows when), Middleditch (THE BRONZE [2016], THE CAMPAIGN [2012], TV show SILICON VALLEY, and the upcoming GODZILLA: KING OF MONSTERS [2019]), as well as Ed Helms (VACATION [2015], THE LORAX [2012], and THE HANGOVER [2009]). In support, we have Nick Kroll (SING [2016], and TV shows THE LEAGUE and PARKS AND REC), Jordan Peele (STORKS [2016], WANDERLUST [2012], and TV show KEY AND PEELE), and Kristen Schaal (THE BOSS [2016], and TV shows BOBS BURGERS and THE LAST MAN ON EARTH).

Now for behind the scenes. Directing is David Soren, known for TURBO (2013). Penning the screenplay is Nicholas Stoller, known for STORKS, MUPPETS MOST WANTED (2014), and THE MUPPETS (2011). Finally, the composer for the score is Theodore Shapiro, known for COLLATERAL BEAUTY (2016), INFINITELY POLAR BEAR (2014), and DIARY OF A WIMPY KID (2010).

Overall, not terribly thrilled to see this, but here’s to hoping it’s better than it’s letting on.

This is my honest opinion of: CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS: THE FIRST EPIC MOVIE

(SUMMARY)

Harold (Thomas Middleditch) and George (Kevin Hart) are a pair of kids who are the best of friends. They make comics together, their favorite creation being the crime-fighting Captain Underpants, and try to have as much fun as possible. This isn’t easy when they’re at school, which is run by their evil principal, Mr. Krupp (Ed Helms). They combat his authority by pulling off pranks. He’s been unable to get them in trouble due to a lack of proof. However, the inevitable happens and the two boys are about to be separated into different classes. In an act of desperation, Harold attempts to hypnotize Krupp using a magical toy ring… and it miraculously works. They turn Krupp into their comic creation Captain Underpants and he gets loose, trying to fight crime with super powers that he doesn’t have.

(REVIEW)

While I wasn’t wholly wrong about this movie, I’d be lying if I said was completely right. It’s no Kung Fu Panda or How to Train Your Dragon, it’s perfectly fine for what it is: a harmless kids movie.

Because the movie is painfully clear that it’s meant for kids, the humor is exactly that: kiddie humor. So most of the jokes aren’t especially funny. It’s just tolerable. Thankfully, DreamWorks had the foresight not to go all NORM OF THE NORTH (2016), but keeps the humor pretty innocent. I think maybe there was one fart joke that wasn’t too bad, and a surprising lack of potty humor. Instead, the jokes are pretty much what you’d expect them to be. The kids hypnotize their principal into turning into their undergarment clad superhero and laugh at him as any kid would, and the guy acting all goofy. Again, thankfully, it’s written in a way that isn’t annoying. It’s not written funny, for the most part, but it’s not obnoxious.

Even the plot has been kind of done before. Not the superhero bit, of course, but the whole, “We’re fun-loving kids in a school that hates fun and we’re the rebels who want the rest of the kids to have fun too.” MIDDLE SCHOOL (2016) did that and you can argue that FIST FIGHT (2017) did it too to a degree, albeit it’s the teachers struggling to deal with unruly teens. Give the movie some credit, that’s not the focus of the story and they do segue into a more exciting story. But even that’s been done before too: unleashing a goofy adult that young people need to rein in and pretend they’re related, like in JUMANJI (1995). Once again though, it could have been worse.

The movie also does try to have a moral at the end: find something to laugh at yourself about. I can’t lie, I like that moral and it’s pretty unique in a kids movie. The problem is that the rest of the movie doesn’t really back it up. The movie starts off about pranks and learning to lighten up, then it turns into a silly superhero movie, and it’s only at the end where the moral is brought up. But even then, it’s not really enforcing its moral. The kids are still laughing at the teacher’s name and spent a good chunk of time making fun of it in a self-made comic book they made. These kids never make fun of themselves or point out their own flaws. So the moral is completely confused and ultimately pointless.

Is there anything that’s funny? Well, I did like a few jokes in the beginning. You might recall from the trailer when the two kids try to leave their principal’s office only for him to press a button and then a high tech lockdown initiates, preventing their escape. By the end of the dramatic lockdown, George says, “Wow, that’s an expensive door.” But this is followed up with Mr. Krupp smugly saying something like, “Do you like it? I had a choice to spend school funding on a magnetically sealed door, or keep the theater-arts department open. I think I made the better choice.” I admit, I laughed at that. There’s another sequence where, if I remember correctly, Captain Underpants has turned the entire front of the school into an amusement park of sorts and Harold and George are like, “What do we do?! We have to stop this!” A shot of kids having fun goes by and then you see Harold and George going through a sugar rush, clearly enthralled by the festivities at some point. And pretty much anything when Professor Poopypants comes in. Yup, Kroll steals the show on this one. One line that just came back to me was when Poopypants has got these kids in a bind and he’s about to sap their ability to laugh at anything, the kids try to appeal to his good nature by saying something like, “Dude, you gotta lighten up and learn to laugh at yourself,” or something to that effect. And then Poopypants exclaims, “Oh really, Oprah?!” Again, I laughed quite a bit on that one. There’s also this running gag with this lady on hold. That was funny too.

That’s… kind of it, actually. It’s not like a good DreamWorks movie like How to Train Your Dragon where adults could go in without kids and get something out of it. No, you’d want to bring your kids for this one. It’s a movie for them and it works fine for what it’s supposed to do: keep ’em entertained, which it will do effectively. The animation is fine, and fast-paced, so it’s never boring. It’s colorful and competently made, so it’s not completely devoid of imagination. Personally, if you wanted to see a better version of this that both kids and adults would enjoy, LEGO BATMAN (2017) is the way to go. But if your kids are itching to see it, go ahead, it’s harmless and not painful to sit through. But if you’re an adult hit with nostalgia who grew up with the books unlike me, I’d say wait for a rental. It’s not exactly worth a theater viewing. Not bad, not that good, just… meh. I’m not the target demographic, so it is what it is.

My honest rating for CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS: THE FIRST EPIC MOVIE: 3/5

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STORKS review

At first glance, I didn’t have much hype for this. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for a cutsie movie that exists to only be a cutsie movie, but then again, considering that we were unfortunately given NORM OF THE NORTH (2016) and THE WILD LIFE (2016) this year, I wasn’t banking on it being that bad. And with the final trailer out, yeah, I still didn’t have the highest of hopes for it being anything amazing, I was hoping for something solid. But then I did a dollar tree-worth amount of research and I discovered something pretty cool: one of the core characters, Tulip, is voiced by Katie Crown. Who’s that you might ask? An actual voice actress! As in, she’s not a traditional celebrity, like Andy Samberg or Jennifer Aniston. No, her career is almost nothing but cartoons like the Total Drama series and CLARENCE. Now that I really look at her IMDb page, she’s a veteran of CartoonNetwork. Anyway, the point I’m making is… that never happens. Professional voice actors in feature-length films on the big screen are usually relegated to “additional voices” credits, or glorified cameos, even though professional voice actors are significantly more talented. That’s really awesome for Crown.

But I think the biggest reason why I wasn’t hyped for this reason. For those of you that don’t know, I’m the biggest sucker for adoption stories. Primarily because I’m adopted myself. So movies like, MARTIAN CHILD (2007), DESPICABLE ME (2010), PETE’S DRAGON (2016), and elements of the Kung Fu Panda films and THE GOOD DINOSAUR (2015), these movies are cinematic injections of emotion for me. So I’m always afraid that when a new movie comes along like this, I’m horrified of going in and it’s not done justice. These movies are either cinematic gold, or about the most offensive stories that you can get wrong. To be fair, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a “bad” adoption movie. Maybe ORPHAN (2009), but that was a horror movie and we all know how I feel about those in general.

But enough of my blithering. Let’s take a look at the voice talent. Crown is the only name mainstream audiences might not know, but picking up the slack is Samberg (the Hotel Transylvania movies, POPSTAR [2016], and TV show BROOKLYN NINE-NINE), Aniston (MOTHER’S DAY [2016], THE IRON GIANT [1999], and TV show FRIENDS), Kelsey Grammer (NEIGHBORS 2 [2016], X-MEN: THE LAST STAND [2006], and TV show FRAISER), and many more.

Now behind the scenes. Writing and co-directing is Nicholas Stoller (both Neighbors films, FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL [2008], and GET HIM TO THE GREEK [2010]). Quite the change of pace if you ask me. All those raunchy comedies and then swinging to a kids movie. Interesting. Stoller’s partner-in-action! is Doug Sweetland, making his feature film debut. Congrats, sir. Finally, composing is Jeff and Mychael Danna (THE GOOD DINOSAUR, THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS [2009], and TV show TYRANT).

I’m going in with mixed emotions. I’m obviously hoping it’ll be good, but I guess we shall see. This is my honest opinion of STORKS.

(SUMMARY)

Once, storks delivered babies. But that job became too much of a hassle and eventually decided to deliver packages instead, like cell phones and other things. Junior (voiced by Andy Samberg) is a hotshot delivery stork who’s caught the eye of the company’s owner, Hunter (voiced by Kelsey Grammer), who wants to promote him to boss of the company as he himself moves higher in the corporate ladder. His only condition, he has to fire Tulip (voiced by Katie Crown), the sole teenage girl that works with the storks, orphaned after a crazed stork damaged her beacon that would take her to her family. Now that she’s turning eighteen years old, she has to be “liberated.” Also because she’s an inventor who only wants to help the storks, she winds up causing a lot of damage. So Hunter wants her gone. But Junior can’t fire her and tries to hide her away from everyone, in the abandoned letter factory, where people would write to the storks and their baby would be made. Meanwhile, among the general populace, is the Gardner family, specifically the young boy Nate (voiced by Anton Starkman). His parents are always too busy to play with him, so he comes across an old add of the storks and writes a letter for a baby brother. He sends it, Tulip receives it, and heads to the baby factory where a baby is made, much to the dismay of Junior, who tries to stop her, but fails. In order to correct his mistakes, he and Tulip go on a journey to take the baby to it’s family while avoiding Hunter and his minions as well as other dangers.

(REVIEW)

Well, the marketing team needs a slap on the wrist because this movie is far better than I had thought.

First off, can I just applaud Crown for such a fun and wonderful performance? Jeez, this is the reason why I’ve complained for years that professional voice actors are far better for animated movies. They have a wider arsenal of talent than most celebrities. Why would you hire Samberg? To play the surfer dude type that’s dorky and or ditzy. I guarantee you, voice actors like Steve Blume or John DiMaggio could not only play that role better, but could play multiple roles with widely different voices and the average movie-goer wouldn’t be the wiser. Crown gives the perfect example of this. There’s this scene where Junior hides Tulip in the letter room, under the guise that she’s head of the department, and she gets SO bored that she starts talking to herself, playing characters that are just her, with different hair styles and voices. It’s so entertaining to watch. Don’t get me wrong, I love Amy Poehler and Bill Hader as much as the next bloke, but nothing beats a classic Jennifer Hale or Nolan North. I hope to see this turn into a trend in future animated films and it’d be nice to know that Crown spearheaded that. All in all, Crown is great.

It doesn’t end with her either. The film’s villains are hysterical. Grammer as Hunter is the perfect ruthless businessman. His design, while still a stork, seems so much bigger and more intimidating than any other stork, he reminds me more of a hawk. Somehow, I don’t think that was an accident. Either way, awesome. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the alpha and beta wolves, voiced by none other than the ever popular Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele. Oh my lord, these guys are brilliant; downright phenomenal. They play the wolf pack (more on them in a bit) leaders that immediately fall in love with the baby that needs to be delivered to its family. They declare it an honorary wolf, naming her “tiny thing” for the rest of the movie, but Junior and Tulip rescue her and are constantly chased by the wolves as a result.

Since we’re talking about the wolves… they shouldn’t have worked. I looked at the trailer and they “take the forms of” boats, submarines, and, I’m not kidding here, mini vans. They literally join together to make vehicles. It should have been a shark jump for me; being way too silly. But then I thought to myself, yeah, it’s a kids movie that made a world where storks delivering babies is a thing. Worse ideas have been made… like twerking polar bears voiced by Rob Schneider with terrible animation that makes the original Scooby Doo cartoons look like AVATAR (2009), but I digress. This is about a much better animated kids movie.

In all honesty, this movie has a lot of elements that shouldn’t have worked. Usually, I’m not a fan of Samberg. His HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA (2012) character was annoying. He was tolerable in the sequel mostly because he wasn’t in it as much. He’s a fine actor in his live-action work, but voice-acting… he tries too hard. Here, he’s not as annoying as he in the first HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA, but he does start off that bad. But he’s written so much better in this flick that I do eventually warm up to Junior as the movie progresses and… yeah, I got choked up at the end. It’s like he realized half way through the movie that he can deliver lines like a normal person and still come across as genuine, as opposed to trying to sound genuine.

And *GASP* oh my god, all the self-aware humor busted my gut! I don’t know what it is, but when movies have elements that are so stupid, even a character calls it out, I just can’t help but giggle. Junior wants to avoid a conversation while on a raft, he’ll stab the raft with a random knife to stop it, Tulip will be completely dumbfounded and ask where he even got the knife. Nate’s mom (voiced by Jennifer Aniston) wants to knock down their chimney, she grabs a sledgehammer and obliterates it. As the dust settles, she’s all, “Oh wow, that was not a well constructed chimney. It got destroyed destroyed so easily. I’m actually a pretty small build, so that’s kind of shocking,” gah! I love humor like that, it just makes me so happy and this movie is marinated in it.

Believe me, I want to get into every single aspect of what I loved about this movie, but if I did, everything would be spoiled. So let’s move on to the less than funny bits. Yeah, for all the excellent execution, there are still a few uh-ohs. For example, Pidgeon Toady (voiced by Stephen Kramer Glickman) is pretty ear-bleedingly annoying. He’s that character that has to go, “Hey, brah! What up, brah!? That’s cool, brah!” It’s about as obnoxious as you can get. But in a way, even that isn’t SO bad considering how over the top the rest of the movie is, so in some scenes, his over the top speech choices are acceptable.

Honestly, the more I thought about the movie, the more I started to love it. While it’s not quite an adoption story that I had thought it would kind of be, it’s still a story about finding family and those are close enough that still have me weeping with happiness. But if anyone came up to me and told me that they didn’t like it, yeah, I can probably see why. But there was too much that this movie did right and so much of the humor tailored to my sense of humor that I can’t help but highly recommend it to everyone. Again, I loved it. I saw it once, but I look forward to seeing it again.

My honest rating for STORKS: 5/5

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Upcoming reviews:

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  • QUEEN OF KATWE
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