A still from 'Captain Underpants'. (DreamWorks Animation/File)
Step aside, Spiderman. Move over, Man of Steel. Cool it, Caped Crusader, because there's a new superhero in town -- and he doesn't need tights to feel like a tough guy.
Sporting his trademark red cape, enormous tighty whities and literally nothing else, Captain Underpants is about to leap from the pages of Dav Pilkey's best-selling children's books into theaters, boasting a cast of comedy superstars.
"I discovered these books about 20 years ago. I happened to be in a bookstore right when the first book was hitting the shelves and I picked up a copy," director David Soren told a news conference ahead of the June 2 release of "Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie."
"I looked at it like, 'Captain Underpants -- this is silly,' and was leafing through the pages and probably read half the book right there in the aisle."
Captain Underpants may not be as fast as a speeding bullet or as powerful as a locomotive but Pilkey's unconventional superhero has managed to shift 80 million copies across 12 stories since 1997, delighting children across the world in 20 languages.
The heart and soul of DreamWorks Animation's 35th release is the friendship between mischievous George Beard and his goofy companion Harold Hutchins, played by Kevin Hart ("Central Intelligence") and Thomas Middleditch ("The Wolf of Wall Street").
The best pals hang out making comic books in their treehouse to escape the drudgery of their prison-like elementary school in small-town Ohio, and one day they hypnotize their principal into thinking he's the incredibly dimwitted star of their superhero stories.
"I love the relationship that Thomas and I had with those characters," said Hart, 37, who has spoken of his tough upbringing with a drug addict father in Philadelphia, where he would get into trouble regularly for being the class prankster.
"In school, that best friend is very important, that close friend that you have that you open up to, that you're talking to on a different level on a day-to-day basis, that you're confiding in at a young age. That's dope to me. That's something kids can relate to."
Pilkey and Soren both learned to draw by emulating Charles Schulz's "Peanuts" comic strip and, because they were kindred spirits artistically, the novelist felt able to leave his creation largely in the director's hands.
"When I first wrote the book, I had imagined it as a live-action movie in my head. But then I realized that nobody wants to see a real-life grown man running around in his underwear. That would look a bit creepy," says Pilkey.
'Ton of fun'
Ed Helms ("The Hangover"), who has known Hart since their days on the 1990s New York stand-up circuit, starts out as Principal Krupp, a repressed, angry man -- with perhaps a kernel of goodness -- who hates laughter, singing and George and Harold most of all.
Krupp periodically turns into Captain Underpants, a well-meaning but delusional trainwreck of an alter-ego who does the wrong things for the right reasons, all while bellowing out his nonsensical "Tra-La Laaaa!" catchphrase.
"They're both super fun and it was a blast to get into both. Principal Krupp was a little harder maybe because he's more gruff and it was just physically harder on my voice," said Helms.
"But then on the other hand, Captain Underpants is always so loud, always shouting, so it was kind of taxing on my voice but always just a ton of fun."
The movie's confident subtitle would suggest a franchise and Helms, 43, said he would love to still be playing the character when he turns 80, although he added that this would depend on the success of "The First Epic Movie."
"There's so many Underpantsian adventures for him to have, so many absurd villains for him to conquer," added Middleditch, 35.
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