What’s new, everyone? On December 3, Disney+ dropped a new Diary of a Wimpy Kid movie—not a live-action adaptation of the heavily illustrated middle grade book series by Jeff Kinney, but an animated version this time around. It focuses on the series’s first book, which is also called Diary of a Wimpy Kid, as Greg Heffley (Brady Noon, Disney+’s The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers) attempts to survive the trials and embarrassments of middle school alongside his loyal best friend Rowley Jefferson (Ethan William Childress, ABC’s Mixed-Ish).
Just to give a bit of background, I’m a longtime Wimpy Kid fan. Funnily enough, it was actually the 2010 Zachary Gordon-starring adaptation that drew me into reading the source material. I still read the books to this day for the uproarious antics and the on-point illustrations. As for the movies, all of them—except for the 2017 adaptation of the ninth entry in Kinney’s series, The Long Haul, which I haven’t seen because it switched out the entire cast and gave off less charm than that cigarette-smoking cockroach—are placed in their own museum exhibits within my nostalgia temple, having authentically captured the spirit of the books and boasted the perfect actors to embody Greg and company. Admittedly, I felt somewhat apprehensive heading into the animated adaptation directed by Swinton O. Scott III (The Simpsons) and written by Kinney, worrying that it wouldn’t measure up to the movies I consumed in my adolescent years.
While I’m invariably going to prefer the live-action movies, the animated take is a worthy follow-up all the same. The most crucial part is its ability to convey the genuine terrors of being a tween who has to tackle problems like picking out a classroom seat that’s free of troublemakers in any of the adjacent spots, avoiding an infamous slice of cheese that’s been rotting for who-knows-how-long out on the blacktop and the cooties-esque Cheese Touch that you allegedly catch after coming in contact with The Cheese itself, and locating a vacant space to eat lunch in a cafeteria whose rugrats won’t let you sit at their tables. The live-action movies depicted all of these childhood pains and ostracisms with a surprisingly biting and smart sense of humor that forced you to recall just how horrifying it was to wrestle with school and life politics at such a tender age. The animated movie, for me, isn’t as successful at achieving the same goal, but it comes pretty damn close.
It isn’t a carbon copy of the 2010 movie, either. Sure, it generally sticks to a lot of the same plot beats that see self-centered and conniving Greg devising schemes to gain popularity (I kind of forgot how much of an unlikeable antihero he’s designed to be) and Rowley getting roped into them. But the 2021 movie does pursue some deviations to keep itself fresh, and those changes actually make it a little more faithful to certain events in the book. Noon and Childress deliver convincing vocal performances (I also want to give a nod to Silicon Valley’s Chris Diamantopoulos, who played Greg’s dad Frank and, coincidentally enough, just made an appearance as a husky-voiced arms dealer in Netflix’s Red Notice—a movie whose downright forgettability has increased threefold in my mind over the two weeks since streaming it). I do wish the animation, which is evocative of The Peanuts Movie, could have been refined. Monsters at Work and What If…? are both pieces of animated Disney+ content that clearly ran on higher production budgets, and I would have liked to see the animated Wimpy Kid movie receive the same amount of visual polish. All of this is packaged in a 58-minute runtime that’s half an hour shorter than the 2010 movie. I’ve heard complaints from viewers who wanted a feature-length experience, but I’m perfectly okay with it lasting just under one hour. In a cinematic landscape that often requires audiences to watch a flick for two hours, two and a half hours, or even three hours, we need to be appreciative of content that realizes it can score points by refusing to overstay its welcome.
An animated sequel based on Kinney’s second Wimpy Kid book, Rodrick Rules, is already on the Disney+ docket. Obviously, the issue of onscreen child actors aging out of their roles is nonexistent in animation. This means Disney can keep churning out more of these adaptations for the rest of Kinney’s series, which recently published its sixteenth entry, Big Shot, in October. Like I said, I’ll choose Zachary Gordon, Robert Capron, Devon Bostick, Rachael Harris, Steve Zahn, and the rest of the OGs every time, but the 2021 animated Wimpy Kid is a nonetheless entertaining time that will introduce plenty more kids to Kinney’s remarkable work.
Until next time, stay healthy and stay strong!
Windup score: 78/100