Whether you're a kid or a kid at heart, there's something surprisingly delightful to be found within the world of DreamWorks Animation's The Epic Tales of Captain Underpants.
The 13-episode first season, which debuts on Netflix today, serializes the world of Dav Pilkey's Captain Underpants books into a whole new context. The series follows George Beard (Ramone Hamilton) and Harold Hutchins (Jay Gragnani), two fourth graders who spend their days playing pranks and making comic books.
As the series' absurdly catchy theme song explains, George and Harold used a hypnosis ring on their curmudgeon principal, Mr. Krupp (Nat Faxon), with some pretty surprising results. At the literal snap of George and Harold's fingers, Mr. Krupp transforms into Captain Underpants, a jovial, well-meaning superhero clad in tighty-whites and whatever red fabric is nearby.
This concept has been a springboard for other forms of media in the past, from the aforementioned books to last year's Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie. In this television adaptation, the premise allows the series to be serialized pretty well, creating ten pocket-sized installments that feel perfectly suited for a summer day of watching TV.
The franchise itself is over 20 years old at this point, but there's quite a lot about The Epic Tales of Captain Underpants that works well, whether you poured over every book as a kid or you have no idea what to expect.
The series radiates with a delightfully silly energy, one that can't help but make you think about how much fun the cast is having. Hamilton and Gragnani are pretty perfectly cast, bringing a sort of authenticity in between the quips and toilet humor. In the series' titular role, Faxon makes things truly larger-than-life, whether he's griping about school rules as Mr. Krupp or earnestly attempting to save the day as Captain Underpants.
To an extent, the series almost has a fourth main character in Sean Astin, who portrays the series' intrepid narrator. The Goonies and Stranger Things icon is easily a standout, injecting just the right amount of self-aware fun whether he's introducing viewers to new characters or pointing out plot holes. Astin's narration almost feels like an all-ages version of Ron Howard's work on Arrested Development, something that will surely be a highlight for viewers of all age groups.
Another standout element of The Epic Tales of Captain Underpants is its visual presentation, particularly in the series' use of different "homemade" mediums. Chase scenes can instantly transition into sock puppets running through cardboard boxes, while fight scenes that are "too violent" to show are presented as flipbooks or doctor's office pamphlets. It's a pretty inspired choice, one that very rarely ceases to be a delight as the season goes on.
This sort of blend of earnestness and self-awareness is what really makes The Epic Tales of Captain Underpants sing, helping give it a bit more of a lasting impact than your average kid show.
Sure, Captain Underpants going toe-to-toe with a giant butt monster or a grumpy DJ robot sounds absolutely ridiculous on paper. But the series fully embraces that ridiculousness, evoking the sort of childlike mischief and wonder that all of us had at one point and time. Having comic books - a medium that, at its core, can be utterly ridiculous -- play a significant role only heightens that, and will hopefully make viewers remember why they love superheroes so much to begin with.
Admittedly, there are some periodic moments where the series' unique energy falls slightly flat. The standalone nature of each episode often means that George and Harold only kind of learn a life lesson by an episode's end. Sure, that's fine when the lesson is to do your homework or to not toilet paper the school, but that pattern can be a tiny bit frustrating when the lesson also serves as an addressing of the "Strong Female Character" trope.
As executive producer Peter Hastings explained to ComicBook.com, his goal is for The Epic Tales of Captain Underpants to unlock viewer's creativity, and it feels like the series largely succeeds on that front. Whether you're a fan of the comic book world, a parent looking for a show to watch with your children, or someone looking for an animated series with a little bit of fun, something in the series will hopefully surprise you. And hey, maybe it will even inspire you to pick up a pen and paper and revisit that childlike wonder for yourself.
The first season of The Epic Tales of Captain Underpants is now available to stream on Netflix.