INTERVIEW: Ed Helms, Star of Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie

GREG EHRBAR: This is a story about a man who spends most of his time in briefs.


GREG: So, do you feel that it’s a love letter to the fine people of Cape May, New Jersey you met as a Daily Show correspondent?

ED: (Laughs) Deep cut! I respect that. This is an apology to the people of New Jersey who had to observe my Speedo-clad body, traipsing around their fair city.—battle-of-the-bulge

GREG: But maybe this movie will also help those who feel self-conscious.

ED: I agree. If this gets more people to run around in their tighty whities, then we’ve done our job.

GREG: There will be less strife, fewer wars.

ED: Of course. Yes! Human suffering will end.

GREG: The country has always needed colorful, fun escapism during dark times—there was Shirley Temple and Busby Berkeley in the’30s, Laugh-In and I Dream of Jeannie in the ‘60s. That’s not what all filmmakers are “getting,” but I think your film fulfills that kind of need.

ED: I’m thrilled to hear you say that. To be fair, we started this, like, three years ago, but I can see your larger point. I think that silliness, anything that makes people laugh with total abandon is injecting positive energy into the world and you could argue that we need a lot of it right now. I hope this movie does this. I love it. It’s just big, bright and silly.

GREG: As someone who has been in satire for such a long time, how do you see all that?

ED: Authority is not inherently bad, but obviously abusive authority is a form of hypocrisy, a form of inverting the responsibility of authority. Good satire is all about exposing hypocrisy, much more so than any political agenda or left or right ideology. At its best, it’s just about hypocrisy. To the extent that there are satirical elements in this movie, I think it hits that.

GREG: You give a very enthusiastic, ebullient performance as Captain Underpants. Unless people watch special features on a Blu-ray, they may not realize that you physically move around a lot when you do a voice like that. You must have been flailing.

ED: Yeah. I think you can really hear whether or not someone is physically committed in the recording. It’s amazing, the subtle differences when you just smile while you’re talking. You can hear the difference. The muscles are doing something different. You have to be approximating something in order to get the effort, or the fear, anxiety, whatever’s happening, you’ve got to put yourself there and go for it.

GREG: Is there a touch of Gary Owens as Space Ghost and Powdered Toast Man, or Bud Collyer as Superman, or John Irwin as He-Man in your performance?

ED: Yes, all that stuff. It’s Saturday morning cartoons, Underdog, the Justice League, Super Friends, all the cartoons I grew up with. Then there’s Tim Allen as Buzz Lightyear.

GREG: Doing a voice like this must be a blast.

ED: It’s just such a treat to pull from those references and do my own version of it. I’m just so tickled by that hero gravitas. Then we get to invert it, because Captain Underpants isn’t all there, he’s kind of a loose cannon, but he’s got all that strident confidence.

GREG: And he loves the kids and their work.

ED: He loves everything.

GREG: He’s proud of what they do. When adults show interest in what a kid does, it’s like gold.

ED: Well, he also thinks it’s real.

GREG: One of the things the film does is add shading to the principal’s character, which is not in the books.

ED: I love that! I love that he’s a little bit more contextualized and he’s given a little bit more back-story. It helps arc the boys’ awareness.

GREG: Does voice acting come somewhat naturally to you because you’ve been doing it pretty much since you got out of college, at least as an announcer?

ED: It’s a comfortable space for me. I feel very at home in a recording booth. You can just keep exploring and experimenting and trying things, unlike on a set, where if it’s a big sequence it might take an hour to reset the cameras and the props and everything. In a recording studio you can try anything.

GREG: But it’s still acting. There are those who might dismiss voice work as just going into a booth and saying something in a funny way, but it’s a different kind of acting.

ED: It’s very different because you have to put yourself somewhere in an imaginary way as opposed to being on a set where it’s a little easier because the physical space is there. A lot of times you’re not recording the voice with the other actors, so you’re filling in the blanks about the pacing and the dynamic of an exchange. I’m very lucky to have done a lot of it and become very comfortable with it. I enjoy it immensely. It’s super fun.

Captain Underpants: His First Epic Movie is now available on Blu-ray, DVD, 4K and download.

Blu-ray/DVD Review: Disneynature’s Born in China

Amid the din of tentpole extravaganzas, Disney continues to quietly release annual excursions into the world of animals, every bit as spectacular as the big films but at a fraction of the budget and the return. But they produce them anyway, as part of their worldwide conservation efforts (another relatively unheralded but highly accomplished program) and as a part of the heritage created by Walt Disney with his multi-Oscar winning True-Life Adventure series.

Born in China may be the Disneynature film to best capture to the spirit of True-Life Adventures to date, as it contains a similar blend of drama, emotion and comedy (complete with a funny musical “branch breaking sequence”). It’s all conveyed through the ingenious editing of endless animal footage with narration that gives identities and storylines to the principal “characters.”

Therein lies some of the criticism of the original series, which was accused of anthromorphizing the creature, assigning them personalities and motives that might be fictional. However, while these human assumptions may be so, they are made with the cooperation of experts who know about the behaviors of the species. What the storyline does is draw in the viewers—especially children—offering a beginning, middle and end rather than recite a series of dry facts. Walt Disney always believed that you couldn’t reach audiences with education without being entertaining in some way.

Indeed, John Kracynki’s narration has all the raised-eyebrow heightened wonder of a young father reading to his children. Born in China presents a rare glimpse of landscapes and animals, an experience that seems cathartic in today’s world. Sometimes it’s good to see that there are other worlds and other living beings on earth besides us with their own ongoing joys and challenges.

The end credits and Blu-ray bonus features offer just a fraction of the time consuming, physically demanding work that goes into making films like these, focusing on each of the separate teams covering each of the species—golden monkeys, snow leopards and pandas–focused upon in the feature. Most amusing is seeing the teams required to dress in panda attire to keep the real pandas at ease when they got close enough to safely film these fascinating creatures.