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Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie

Adapted from Dav Pilkey's series of colourful children's books, David Soren's energetic computer-animated adventure is like a pair of oft-worn Y-fronts: saggy and frayed in places but structurally sound. Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie embraces puerile humour with a goofy grin and repeatedly trots out fart and poop gags to keep youngsters in the audience sniggering with glee. It's a one-joke script by Nicholas Stoller, who penned the vastly superior 2011 Muppets film, which shortchanges parents and older children, who no longer mine mirth from the name of the planet Uranus. The animation ripples with bright colours and, in a pleasing nod to Pilkey's source material, Soren has incorporated hand-drawn visuals as well as one sequence involving hand puppets. Annoyingly, the infuriating slip of an animator's light pen throughout the film distracts from the slickly orchestrated mayhem. The seat of learning at the heart of the story - Jerome Horwitz Elementary - is repeatedly misnamed Jerome Horowitz, including on the side of the school's yellow bus. It speaks volumes that my abiding memory of Soren's picture is a rogue vowel. Fourth grade pals George Beard (voiced by Kevin Hart) and Harold Hutchins (Thomas Middleditch) run amok at Jerome Horwitz Elementary, driving teachers to distraction with their antics. When one of their pranks goes awry, the boys end up in the office of mean-spirited school headmaster Benjamin Krupp (Ed Helms), whose desk is adorned with a poster that reads "Hope Dies Here". Krupp threatens to separate the lads and thereby terminate their friendship. In retaliation, George uses a plastic 3D hypno-ring he excavated from a box of frosted cereal to send Krupp into a trance. The tykes convince the headmaster that he is a superhero called Captain Underpants, who gallivants around their community of Piqua, Ohio, wearing just a pair of white Y-fronts and a flowing red cape. Realising they can control Krupp with a snap of their fingers, George and Harold exploit their powers of mind control to get their own back on snivelling classmate Melvin Sneedly (Jordan Peele). They also sow seeds of romance between the unsuspecting headmaster and kind dinner lady Edith (Kristen Schaal). Every superhero needs an arch-nemesis and the new science teacher Professor P (Nick Kroll) turns out to be a megalomaniac who intends to take over the school using his incredible shrinking device. Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie is a silly yet sweet confection, which maintains a brisk pace before the inevitable showdown between the forces of scantily clad good and cackling evil. Effervescent vocal performances keep energy levels up for the entire 89 minutes, including multiple opportunity for Helms to bellow the titular superhero's jaunty catchphrase ("Tra-la-laa"). While curmudgeonly Krupp eventually soars as the clumsy caped crusader, the character's big screen debut fails to convincingly take flight.