Though its runtime is less than an hour, the new all-CGI Diary of a Wimpy Kid from Disney still qualifies as a movie in my opinion. Just a very short one!
There can be few people out in the world who haven’t been aware of Jeff Kinney’s hugely popular Diary of a Wimpy Kid book series, which began life as a daily web series before being picked up to be published in book form in 2006, with the first book in the series being released in 2007. As of October 2021, 16 books have been released in the series, which has also seen more than 250 million books sold.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid is styled as if it is written and illustrated by middle-schooler Greg Heffley – a kid who longs to be popular, but who isn’t quite cool enough to be at the top of the social ladder, but also not really nerdy enough to be at the bottom. The books feature some truly hilarious shenanigans, with Greg and slightly immature best friend Rowley getting themselves into numerous scrapes, butting heads with a rotating cast of characters. Greg’s pushy mother, annoying older brother Rodrick and baby brother Manny all feature heavily too.
Despite being far older than the target market for the books, I’ve always found them to be pretty amusing, wittily written and genuinely entertaining reads. The previous attempts to bring the books to screen fell a little flat for me, because a lot of the charm in Kinney’s books come from ‘Greg’s’ illustrations – though each film did start by using these familiar character designs, there was little point in trying to recreate them with live actors – but I always thought that the best approach was blindingly obvious: just make a cartoon that apes the style of the books!
Finally, that’s what we have here. The CG-animated 60-minute (or thereabouts) movie perfectly recreates Kinney’s style and it’s a lot more faithful to the first book in the series as a result. The film covers Greg’s first foray into middle school – getting his diary (don’t call it a journal), trying to avoid bullies and even learning about (and encountering) the dreaded, now-iconic Cheese Touch.
It’s all perfectly fine, but it does seem a little light and perhaps a bit bland. Partly, this may well be because we’ve seen so much more of Greg and Rowley’s adventures by now, so this introductory story just doesn’t raise as many laughs as the next few books in the series, which do get a bit more outrageous in terms of what happens in them. There’s some genuinely touching moments here though, with poor, kind-hearted Rowley being perhaps the most put-upon character here – Rowley and Greg end up surviving some traumatic stuff that really seals their friendship.
It’s mostly fairly inoffensive, charming and gentle, with little that’ll raise more than a smile rather than full on belly laughs, but we can hope that more are on the way. The visual style and casting are perfect though, so we just need to get to the stronger books – there’s plenty of source material after all. Of course, my slightly lesser opinion of this film could just be a result of my age and over familiarity with the original book; no doubt it’ll appeal to kids of Greg and Rowley’s age though – it chucks in a few useful life lessons for them too.
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