They brought us Kung-Fu Pandas, Dragon training, fairy-tale ogres and the upcoming Puss in Boots, but Dreamworks Animation are now heading into their most anarchic territory yet, having just picked up the rights to Dav Pilkey's scurrilous Captain Underpants adventures.
Pilkey has resisted selling the rights to his comic kids books about the Y-fronted hero since they began publication in 1997. A recent change of heart however led to a "spirited auction" in which Dreamworks came up trumps.
The books revolve around primary school kids Harold and George, whose hobby is writing and drawing the adventures of their invented superman. Their headmaster Benny Krupp hates children, and runs a fascist regime at the boys' elementary school, where imagination is forbidden. But the boys hypnotize Krupp into becoming the nice Captain Underpants whenever anyone snaps their fingers (he changes back when water is poured on hs head) leading to many adventures against the likes of Professor Poopypants, Wedgie Woman, and the Inedible Hunk. Krupp doesn't initially have any super-abilities, meaning the boys have to stop him hurting himself, but he's powered up by some alien dinner ladies in book three.
The books, heavily illustrated as if the kids have drawn them, have been massively popular, but also somewhat controversial: parents and teachers are divided between those who love the Captain Underpants adventures because kids will actually read and enjoy them, and those who hate them because they're simple and scatological and anti-school. Controversy creates publicity though, and Pilkey is singing happily to the tune of 14m copies sold.
Oh, and a movie deal. Dreamworks Animation's chief creative officer Bill Damaschke has been chasing the rights for years, and is delighted to have finally secured them. "We're all big fans," he says. "There’s a great combination of kid and adult humor, and George and Harold are these terrific mischievous characters. And we felt that hypnotizing the principal is one of those great ideas..."