Review by Sean Boelman
Adapting the Diary of a Wimpy Kid book series into films was always going to be a difficult task, as the perpetual middle school misadventures of Greg Heffley would be hindered by the actors aging out of their roles, but this new Disney+ adaptation avoids that by utilizing the animated medium. And while it does have some shortcomings, the charming nature of the source material shines through.
The movie follows an imaginative kid who struggles to fit in with his peers during the first year of middle school. The film follows the story of the first book in the series, although it only hits on the main beats of the arc, cutting out a lot of the subplots. But it was these small one-off jokes which were omitted from the adaptation that won most of the young fans over.
One of the most frustrating things about this adaptation is that it doesn’t seem to understand its protagonist. The books were about a selfish kid learning to care for the other people in his life who were important to him, but in this movie, he’s a genuinely terrible person. There are so few redeeming qualities to the character in this film that he becomes unlikable.
The filmmakers made the interesting choice of making this adaptation under an hour in length. On one hand, since the movie is so short, the laughs come very consistently, but it also ends up being quite rushed. This feels more like the pilot to a television series than a cohesive feature film, and ultimately, it would be pretty well-suited to a feature format.
That said, there is still a very positive message in the movie about the power of friendship. Young kids, in particular, should definitely be reminded of why it is important to be kind. That said, given the abbreviated nature of the story, there’s not a whole lot of room in the film for these themes to be explored in depth.
There aren’t any recognizable names in the voice cast, but the actors do a good job of bringing many of these characters to life. The way in which they embody these people is somewhat uncanny at times. This is especially the case when it comes to the side characters, like Fregley and Rowley.
The animation of the film feels like a 3D animated version of the illustrations from the books, and that is perfectly fitting for what this is. The playful nature of the books was really a highlight, and the movie’s visual style is full of brightness and color in a way that gives it the energy it needs to win audiences over.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid is an enjoyable enough adaptation, and while the popularity of this title has waned in the years since the books’ initial release, it will definitely be a delight for kids to watch. It’s very short, but that’s both a blessing and a limitation.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid is now streaming on Disney+.