Monday, June 26, 2017

David Soren is the Genius Behind DreamWorks' 'Captain Underpants'

David Soren, director of "Captain Underpants"
David Soren is the director of Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie.
(IMDB and DreamWorks)

INTERVIEW

There was a time when Disney animation was the only game in town. A long time in fact. And while no one can deny that they are a pretty tough act to follow, it’s people like David Soren who has helped widen the competition. Soren is the director of Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie for DreamWorks and while you may not know his name, you have already seen his work. Soren has worked as a story artist for the films Shrek, The Road to El Dorado and Chicken Run and has served as director for the speeding snail movie, Turbo. However, Captain Underpants is probably his most obscure movie to date and probably his best so far. I got a chance to meet Soren on the morning of the movie’s opening which is rare. The film was already getting great reviews, so he was in a great mood.

“It’s doing well on Rotten Tomatoes,” I said.

“I know. It’s such a nice surprise.”

Surprise? Well, despite the enormous popularity of the books by Dav Pilkey, DreamWorks was definitely taking a chance bringing a book about bathroom humor to life on the big screen and as Soren explained to me, Pilkey wasn’t too sure which studio would be the best fit.

“I know that for many, many years a lot of different studios were trying to woo Dav Pilkey to get a Captain Underpants movie made and he wasn’t ready to do it,” says Soren. “He had more stories that he wanted to tell and didn’t feel he had worked his way through all the books that he had wanted to make and I think he also didn’t feel like he had found the right match. At some point…I think it was five, six years ago he came to DreamWorks and the development team toured him around and as they were touring around I think Dav…the way Dav tells it, he kept noticing DreamWorks employees all over the place wearing underpants on the outside of their clothes nonchalantly carrying out about their business. I think that was his first clue that this was the right place to do business with.”


Harold and George from Captain Underpants
Harold and George from Captain Underpants. (DreamWorks)
Like the main characters in the book, George and Harold, David Soren grew up creating comic books with his friends and dreamed of becoming an animator someday. He was also first introduced to the Captain Underpants books when the first adventure hit store shelves about 20 years ago.

“I picked it up, thought it was hilarious and before I knew it, I had read half of it right there in the aisle,” said Soren. “Then I had kids of my own and we would read them together. So by the time the studio approached me about the movie I was already and fan and I was very excited to get involved.”

I had heard that author Pilkey was very “hands off” for this movie, and Soren told me that was true only after he felt that Soren and crew really understood the property.

“One of the big changes we made at the time that I felt strongly about was the friendship between George and Harold – who were obviously the central characters of the movie and the books – was really crucial and that was the lifeblood of the books and should be for the movie too. Their friendship should never be in question and there were some early drafts of the script where there was the classic wedge formed between the two of them where one of them wanted to be popular and the other one didn’t and they started having a riff. I just didn’t buy it. I thought it was kind of a betrayal of the friendship in the books and thought that any conflict should come from external forces trying to force them apart rather than internal disagreements with each other. And you could literally see the relief on his face when I assured him of that and really from that point on, he trusted us. He empowered us. He said that he doesn’t like movies that are just page for page adaptations. They’re boring. Why bother going to see the movie? And that was great to hear. In his own way he say, ‘Do what you need to do.’”

Professor Poopypants (DreamWorks)
I told Soren that I was surprised that for a book based on bathroom humor, the movie contained actually very little.

“Nah, I think it comes with the title to some extent and it wouldn’t be right to none. But we did set a very high bar for ourselves in terms that if we went there we would be as hilarious as we could be and as tasteful as could be because it is a temptation to ‘go there’ regularly and it’s not a well you want to go to often.”

At the same time, it was important to Soren and his hope that there wouldn’t be any sense of loss in the translation from the book to the movie.

The two things that Soren is most proud of his movie is the boys’ friendship and the fact that he was allowed to make a “real” cartoon.

Related: Review of Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie

Captain Underpants
(DreamWorks)
“So many features these days are heading into this more naturalistic or very realistic direction and it was great to run away in the opposite direction and go back to the things that I fell in love with animation – the old Warner Bros. cartoons – the Chuck Jones, Steamboat Willie – you know. Truly make a cartoon with enough substance that it wasn’t a one note.”

Captain Underpants continues to do well in theaters and stayed in the “top ten” since June 2, 2017. So, is out of realm of possibility for a sequel?

“A little too soon to say,” says Soren. “But hey, the reviews are great – that couldn’t be nicer to have happening right now. We were in a press conference just before the premiere and the same question was asked to Ed Helms (aka Captain Underpants) who immediately said, ‘Well, I’ve signed on for at least 30 epic movies.’ It was a great time, a great cast. Everybody had a ball making it. Hopefully that shows on the screen. I’m sure that everybody would be thrilled to do more of them.”

But for now, it’s time for Soren and his family to take a vacation, “And then we’ll see,” says Soren.

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