It’s a bird! it’s a plane! It’s a kids’ movie that won’t make grownups want to manually remove their own toenails! Set against that admittedly low bar, DreamWorks’ adaptation of Dav Pilkey’s beloved children’s book series is a tighty-whitey triumph, with manic charm to spare. It is also blessedly brief(s); 89 loopy minutes of light potty humor — literally, the climactic scene involves a super-sized toilet — and modest life lessons that works mostly because it never tries to be more or less than what it is: A breezily surreal story about two best friends who love pranks and tree houses and drawing superheroes who wear their Underoos on the outside.
Like all good leads, George (Kevin Hart) and Harold (Silicon Valley’s Thomas Middleditch) need a nemesis, and they find three: Benjamin Krupp (Ed Helms), the permafrost principal who runs their Ohio elementary school like a Soviet work camp; Melvin Sneedly (Jordan Peele), the resident fourth-grade suck-up; and Professor P (Nick Kroll), the mysterious new science teacher who looks like an electrocuted Einstein and laughs like Dr. Evil hooked to a nitrous tank. Clearly, defeating these enemies will require outside assistance; help comes in the form of a cereal-box hypnosis ring that summons Captain Underpants — the egg-shaped daredevil lovingly depicted in George and Harold’s hand-drawn comic books. One the action-hero competency scale, he’s probably a 2; in pantsless entertainment, a solid 8.5.
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The jokes (by Storks screenwriter Nicholas Stoller) fly fast and a lot of them land — without feeling unnecessarily snarky or self-aware, in the way that some animated movies seem to do when they’re trying too hard to wink at the chaperones in the room. One day, Captain’s pint-size viewers will undoubtedly move on to Marvel’s spandex universe; until then, they’ve got this sweet, silly starter kit. B+