For over a decade, the Diary of a Wimpy Kid novels have consistently remained a staple in the lives of children and teens across the globe. With sixteen main entries and three spin-offs, the Wimpy Kid collection stands tall as the sixth highest-selling book series in history. With a title this influential and popular, a film adaptation clearly has a lot to live up to. A live-action trilogy was released from 2010-2012, which have since gone on to establish themselves as fan-favorites of sorts in the children’s film genre. After a less than stellar attempt at a live-action reboot in 2017, the Wimpy Kid franchise is back with a new animated reimagining on Disney+ and, luckily, it manages to capture enough of the original novel’s spirit.
The black and white, simplistic art style of Diary of a Wimpy Kid has now become iconic, perfectly capturing the mind of a middle school boy. With this being an animated film, many fans would expect it to follow the original illustrations line by line. However, the decision to translate the classic designs and art into a more expansive form was made through 3D animation, and it definitely works for this interpretation. Although it can be a bit jarring at times, it certainly brings memorable moments from the book to life in a way that is highly recognizable while also notably shifting them in order to give viewers a new experience that doesn’t just feel like a simple copy and paste, which could be uninteresting to fans.
While providing a new and interesting direction is clearly important, it’s also equally integral for an adaptation like this to stay true to the source material and, fortunately, this new Diary of a Wimpy Kid does. This is most likely due to the fact that series creator and author Jeff Kinney serves as both producer and writer on the film, giving him the chance to make sure his work is rightfully brought to the screen without the input or misdirection that could be given from an interfering source. With Kinney’s involvement, not only does the film honor the book but it also impressively expands on other certain, smaller elements.
Series protagonist Greg Heffley is not like the average young lead seen in children’s books. He’s rude, egotistical, and believes himself to be the best of the best, despite his unworthy reputation. The necessary attitude and humor are needed to capture his unique voice, and lead Brady Noon does so successfully. After his work on the first trilogy, Zachary Gordon’s portrayal of Greg Heffley has become synonymous with the character, and it can certainly be a hard act to follow, but Noon manages to portray the essence of Greg in a way that makes it all his own. Rather than simply imitate what Gordon did before him, Noon brings his own flair to the role, creating a protagonist that is just as enjoyable as his illustrated counterpart. Special praise should also be given to Ethan William Childress, who plays Greg’s best friend Rowley in the film. Childress brings a much needed purity to Rowley, embodying his innocent nature admirably.
One questionable aspect of this latest release is the runtime, with the movie playing at just under an hour – one of the shorter major animated features to premiere on Disney+. It’s not exactly a surprise to see certain movies receive shorter lengths with more of the freedom that comes with streaming. And yet, one is left to wonder what could’ve been done with a longer runtime. At the current 56 minutes, while the story is certainly portrayed honorably, an extra 10-15 minutes could have gone a long way to developing the relationship between Greg and Rowley much deeper than the film does.
It’s hard to watch this new take without comparing it to the live-action one, and when looking back at it, the relationship between Greg and Rowley boasts such a deep connection that undoubtedly carries that series of films. If viewers weren’t invested in their relationship, many aspects of the live-action versions would have absolutely fallen through, but they managed to stand together and provide a great story for kids to enjoy. With this new animated interpretation, unfortunately, Greg and Rowley’s relationship never really gets the necessary fleshing out it requires to get viewers as engaged. Once they start fighting, it becomes extremely difficult to care because barely anything is known about their friendship. Thus, when they inevitably reconcile, it simply does not carry the emotional weight it is meant to, thanks to a lack of connection between the audience and the two leads.
Although it certainly is not a perfect adaptation, and doesn’t surpass the previous live-action film, Disney’s animated Diary of a Wimpy Kid brings the classic tale to life effectively, honoring Jeff Kinney’s widely beloved work in a new medium. With the upcoming sequel Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules, hopefully, fans get a chance to see a deeper dive into these characters and have this world fleshed out a bit more, allowing them to resonate with this new Wimpy Kid series as they did with the original books and live-action films.