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Do the Right Thing, Redux
In 'Diary of a Wimpy Kid' Jeff Kinney animates his own creation for a new generation.
Now Streaming: Middle school changed my life. Now I can't get away from it.
Perhaps that's because middle school -- or, 'junior high school,' as we knew it in my Southern California days -- is tightly bound to the onset of puberty, when children begin to mature into adults. The middle school years are marked by much confusion about one's own body and one's own mind. What do I think? What do I feel? Can I decide how to think and feel?
As much as some people wish to relive their high school days or their college days or their 20s or 30s or 40s, very few people wish to relive their oft-traumatic middle school days. Creative types are a notable exception to that generalization. In that turbulent trauma, they see vestiges of a very special time in life, when everyone your age is experiencing similar tributions, no matter how much they try to hide it.
First hatched by creator Jeff Kinney when he began keeping a journal in his mid-20s, Diary of a Wimpy Kid was first released online in 2004, leading to its first publication in print form in 2007, leading to an ongoing series of very popular books, leading to a live-action series of film adaptations beginning in 2010, leading to an animated version, released on the Disney Plus streaming service this week.
As a complete neophyte, I've never read any of the books or seen any of the previous film versions, but the new version, written by Jeff Kinney, is a snappy and snazzy adaptation by someone who knows the material better than anyone else. Writers adapting their own books into movies is relatively rare; writers adapting their own books into animated films is so rare that the only one I can think of, off the top of my head and even with a little internet sleuthing, is Joann Sfarr, who has done this multiple times (the latest is Little Vampire, which I reviewed in September).
Kinney has been quick to credit his many collaborators on the project. About the style in which they chose to present the story, he notes:
We started out with this kind of cartoon-y style for the backgrounds and everything that played in the cartoon world, and we eased into something that was more realistic because we want it to feel really grounded.
Directed by Swinton O. Scott III, the film plays marvelously well. Initially, I thought that Greg Heffley (voiced by Brady Noon) looked like a bit of a blockhead. His personality quickly comes to the fore, however, and when we see his friendship with Rowley (voiced by Ethan William Childress), their complementary strengths mesh well.
We can also sense the potential for their differences to ferment conflict, though, which develops when Rowley breaks his arm in an accident caused by Greg. Bereft of Rowley's constant companionship, he broods over his friend's sudden popularity, in marked contrast to his own unhappy stasis as an unpopular non-entity.
As portrayed, the characters appear to be realistic and authentic, which makes it easy to believe in them and connect with people we may have known in our middle-school years. As an adult, it's much easier, obviously, to see how silly and relatively inconsequential any problems in those years may have seemed to us. What was once a giant is now a midget.
Instead of simply recreating events, circumstances, and characters, Jeff Kinney's gentle yet vivid sense of humor blankets the entire film in the comfort of nostalgic remembrance. We remember things as we wish they were, for the most part, a fact that is recognized and treasured by Diary of a Wimpy Kid.
Running just 58 minutes, the film is a blast of fresh air on a hot day. [Disney Plus]