Diary of a Wimpy Kid is a mediocre children’s movie that feels derivative of the 2010 movie adaptation of the hit book series by Jeff Kinney.
Disney’s 2021 animated feature Diary of a Wimpy Kid is another straight-to-streaming family release that reflects poorly on the studio. The movie is a reboot of sorts, ignoring the previous three films in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid franchise and retelling the story in the first book of the hit Jeff Kinney series. While the animation is visually interesting and distinct, balancing the look of the source material with the conventions for 3D animated films, the story offers very little to keep even young viewers interested. Diary of a Wimpy Kid is a mediocre children’s film that — 11 years after the first movie and 14 years after the initial hit book — feels at best derivative, and at worst unnecessary.
Like the original book, 2021’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid follows Greg Heffley (Brady Noon), a young man about to enter middle school. Greg is ambitious, but also scrawny, and isn’t quite sure where he fits in yet in his new surroundings. Much of the movie follows his attempts to integrate into the school population, getting into trouble along the way. Luckily, Greg isn’t doing it alone: his best friend Rowley Jefferson (Ethan William Childress) is along for the ride, offering unwavering support and a kind word. The two face off against teenage bullies, apathetic classmates, and judgmental teachers. However, the real trouble begins when the pressures of middle school start to put a strain on their friendship.
While Diary of a Wimpy Kid tries to stay faithful to Jeff Kinney’s book, recreating many of the same plot points from the original story, the execution misses the mark. The narrative is a rambling mess and completely lacks an underlying structure to give the story direction. In the first book, the premise is clear: Greg is journaling his first year of middle school. The book starts when the school year starts and ends when the year ends. In the 2021 Disney movie, however, there’s no such framing to contextualize the story. The movie begins shortly before the school year, but there’s no clear passage of time after that. As a result, the plot comprises of barely connected episodes that never culminate in a fully realized story. There’s an arc regarding the core friendship between Greg and Rowley, but that alone does not make a compelling narrative.
The loose, anecdotal structure found in Diary of a Wimpy Kid can work, but only when the characters or action is compelling enough to carry the film. The main issue in the 2021 animated film is that it’s not fun to watch. Greg is aggressively unlikable: not only is he a terrible friend and a bit of a brat, but he also lacks any charisma or charm. Being a mischievous or disobedient child doesn’t mean that character can’t be likable; the whole “lovable scamp” archetype is based on the very notion of a kid who breaks the rules. Yet, Diary of a Wimpy Kid completely fails to make its lead appealing; some boys in the audience may find him relatable (to a fault), but his selfishness and cowardice — not to mention his attitude towards others — are unlikely to win over most viewers.
For a children’s film, there are also shockingly few laughs throughout, as well as more than a few distressing scenes. There aren’t really any jokes — at least none that land. The bullying in Diary of a Wimpy Kid is relentless, to the point of being uncomfortable. The interpretation of the book’s Halloween encounter with teenage bullies is genuinely upsetting, to the point where younger viewers may get scared while their parents squirm judgmentally in their seats (teenagers are literally trying to run over a 12-year-old with a toddler on his head — nothing about this is okay). Poor Rowley gets mistreated over and over, and the final resolution does little to make up for what the kid went through. Perhaps most egregious is the vilification of the “weird” kid Fregley, who wants nothing more than to be friends with Greg. Diary of a Wimpy Kid does little to condemn bullying. Instead, it teaches kids that it’s more important to feel accepted than to be kind, and those who are different, like Fregly, deserve derision.
Existing fans of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid franchise will at least get some enjoyment from watching such a faithful adaptation. Jeff Kinney actually wrote the script — although this probably explains why it so poorly adapts the appeal of the books. Kinney’s only previous screenwriting credits are related to the franchise, such as the much-maligned Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul (he did not write the screenplays for the first three, more successful, movies). Perhaps 2021’s animated reboot can serve as a cautionary tale for the industry: being a good writer does not make one a good screenwriter and sometimes the best way to stay faithful to the spirit of a book is to have a competent and experienced professional write the adaptation.
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Diary of a Wimpy Kid releases on Disney+ on December 3, 2021. It is 58 minutes long and is rated PG for rude material and some thematic elements.
- Diary of a Wimpy Kid (2021)Release date: Dec 03, 2021
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