A scene from Captain Underpants, a sweet story that touches on adult loneliness and how laughter and friendship are essential at any age. Picture: Supplied

With a title like Captain Underpants, you expect kid-friendly fart jokes and toilet humour. 

What you may not expect is a sweet story that touches on adult loneliness, the importance of arts education and how laughter and friendship are life essentials at any age.

Based on the popular children’s book series, Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie condenses four volumes into one colourful tale, but no prior knowledge of the books or characters is necessary. Honestly, you don’t even need to bring a kid with you to have fun watching this film.

The story centres on fourth Graders Harold and George, who are best friends and the most popular pranksters at Jerome Horwitz Elementary School. When they aren’t playing tricks or being admonished by mean-spirited Principal Krupp, they’re hanging out in George’s tree house writing comic books.

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That’s where they come up with their signature superhero, the dim-witted but joyous Captain Underpants.

Imagining kooky adventures for their caped character keeps the boys creating comics and laughing for hours - sometimes in class, which draws ire from the already angry Principal Krupp. He’s determined to catch Harold and George misbehaving, and threatens to put them in separate classrooms when he does.

In a desperate attempt to avoid punishment, the boys hypnotise Krupp and convince him he’s actually Captain Underpants.

Ed Helms voices both Krupp and the Captain, the latter with soaring optimism. Kevin Hart dials down his usual outrageousness to play George, and Thomas Middleditch of TV’s Silicon Valley voices Harold.

The villain here is the mysterious new science teacher, Professor P (Nick Kroll), who wants to eradicate all laughter from the school, and eventually the planet. When the students find out the “P" stands for Poopypants, they can’t stop laughing, and the professor is furious.

An ensuing showdown between Poopypants, Underpants, Krupp and the kids involves an army of angry, robotic toilets, because of course it does. The Captain Underpants books are aimed at 8- to 10-year-olds.

Captain Underpants connects with its key demographic through fart sounds, rogue toilets and funny names delivered in bright, saturated colours. But like the best children’s movies, it offers enough substance for adults too.

Director David Soren captures the simple drawing style of Dav Pilkey’s books, but keeps the animation inventive with unexpected flourishes.

Creative parents’ hearts are sure to be warmed when the school arts programme is reinstated, and anyone who’s ever been a kid can appreciate the fourth Graders’ mission to “make school fun again.”

With volumes of source material, not to mention an ending (and title) that set up a possible sequel, Captain Underpants could be back, and he’d be welcome, farts and all. - AP