The Diary of A Wimpy Kid – 2010

Directed by Thor Freudenthal

Starring Zachary Gordon, Robert Capron, Rachael Harris, Steve Zahn, Devon Bostick, Connor and Owen Fielding, Chloë Grace Moretz, Grayson Russell, Laine MacNeil, Karen Brar

Written by Jackie & Jeff Filgo, Gabe Sachs, Jeff Judah based on the book by Jeff Kinney

I bought the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books for my daughter a few years ago during a book sale at her school.  My wife had watched the books fly off of the shelves at the library.  Knowing that it might be a little early for her to read them (she was 5 at the time), I just put them on the shelves.  A few years later, after the sequel for the movie came out, she told me she had read them all and now she wanted to watch the movies.  We had owned the first one for a while, so that wasn’t a problem.  We needed only to wait a few days until the 2nd was out on DVD and we were golden.

The best things about the first Diary is in its message.  Greg Heffley, is a boy who imagines his place in the world, and then panics just a bit when he realizes that his imagination does not match the reality.  The reality is not as bad, again, as he imagines it to be.  So, in essence, the problem is almost entirely about calibration.  Prior to Middle School, Greg’s friend, Rowley was just fine to him.  As childhood turned into teenage years, Greg, with the “benefit” of his brother, Roderick, has a skewed idea of what it takes to get by.  Older siblings help like that sometimes.

Greg’s friends, Rowley, Chirag and Fregley, all have troubles of their own, but work well within the new environment.  Well enough, it would seem.  Greg’s own journey will take him to great lengths to realize the best thing he could do, is to just be himself.  In the process, he will make mistakes, sometimes at great cost to he and his friends.

This being a comedy, and the first movie, you know that the course is corrected by the end of the film.  It is really quite satisfying, however, to see the existence of real kids in a movie environment.  By this I mean, kids of differing shapes, sizes and abilities.  The school environment, while not a stark, realistic environment, does have enough elements of comic realism to satisfy kids and their parents.

As for parents, the family life is handled as realistically as one can expect in a kids comedy.  Mom is put upon, but a trooper.  Dad is just there to keep the ball in play.  Brother Roderick is a nemesis, of sorts (more on this later) and he has a little brother who is no more than a baby.  There is a lot of mugging in the family.  Some hugging, and definitely some learning.  Not in an annoying way.

There is one character who is anchored in reality.  Moretz portrays Angie Steadman, a sophisticated 7th grader and a staffer on the school newspaper.  Some good indoctrination by all writers is the smartest kids in any school presentation always work for the school paper.  This is good, of course, as it will go a long way to promoting literacy.  Steadman, in her role of informer, posits the Greg and his friends with tidbits here and there, seemingly to help them, but more to move the plot forward.  Moretz is a very talented actress and it’s not just her character that makes her stand out.

As his best friend, Rowley is refreshingly simple.  His counterpoint opinion, just being himself, is given a bit of a free ride with the plot.  Or is it?  There is a lot he is ridiculed for, but he reads it differently than does his friend.  This is an important message, that is not lost on older kids.

The Diary of A Wimpy Kid: Roderick Rules – 2011

Directed by David Bowers

Starring same cast except for Peyton R. List replacing Moretz

Written by Jeff Filgo, Gabe Sachs, Jeff Judah based on the book by Jeff Kinney

The second story, Roderick Rules, begins the summer after the first.  Immediately we are brought up to speed with a series of questions that no two friends as close as Rowley and Greg would need to ask.  That aside, the focus of the story now shifts a bit, to dealings with the now 7th Grade Greg and his older brother, Roderick.  They have a back and forth which is pretty mean from the top down.  Not saying that they don’t happen, it’s just that it is not the greatest thing to give kids ideas, especially when the consequences are not as dire as they should be.  There is a pretty funny sequence involving a misplaced candy bar and church, and the girl this time is a super athletic and super beautiful Holly.

This leads to a parental decision that is just beyond stupid.  The parents decided to punish the two boys by making them stay home alone with each other.  And no parties.  Really.

From this silly premise, the boys reach an accord to not squeal on each other.  This tightens their bond for a time, until by accident, the truth is revealed.  Then there is more punishment.

The failings of this movie are quite unsettling.  The mother seems to have lost her brain over the summer, and this reveals the dad to be even more ineffectual.  The party that did not happen at the house is surprisingly devoid of many of the things one would naturally see at a H.S. party, not the least of which are alcohol, sex and the police.  Not having that, of course, keeps it  under the PG-13 label, but it does not make it wise for children to see.

That said, it is refreshing to see the camaraderie of the brothers, as well that of the friends at the school.  One can also appreciate the fact that a talent show is so important to many of the kids in this story.  If you take the good with the bad, and talk to your kids about the difference, this film, much as the first, is as good as any family comedy this decade.

Diary Dog DaysThe Diary of A Wimpy Kid: Dog Days -2012

Directed by David Bowers

Starring same cast except for Peyton R. List replacing Moretz

Written by Wallace Wolodarsky and Maya Forbes based on the book by Jeff Kinney

The hugging and the learning start off early in the third installment.    Both parents decide to spend some quality time with Greg.  Why just him and not the older brother, I am not sure.  There are some funny moments, like when the youngest finds an interesting type of soap in the bathroom and when he gets all but two of the phone numbers from Holly, the girl of his limited dreams.  The obsession is about on par with what I remember.  The fact that he can’t ever just come out and give honest answers might have something to do with it his lack of success.

One would figure by now that Greg would have learned to follow his friend Rowley’s lead and just be conscientious, he might achieve sucess a little bit sooner than the end of the flick.  On the other hand, his parents still have decision making abilities that are not even as good as his.  While the events resonate with out kids, its still pretty important to go over them with them with your kid.

The best thing about this movie, as it is with the rest of the series, is seeing the friendship between Greg and Rowley.  The trips he goes on with the Rowley’s  family has many huge moments, including the “I love you because…” game and the ice cream cone.  One day, perhaps Greg might realize the difference between being punished and his parents being disappointed in him.

Whatever the recipes, the series is a solid moneymaker with a formula that could go on for years.

All movies (*** out of *****)

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