With “Dog Days” and its been-there, done-that screenplay, the franchise takes a step backward.

James Plath's picture

The seven or so Diary of a Wimpy Kid books are popular with the grade school set because they expresses a point of view that many young readers can identify with:  the smart kid, the essentially good kid who’s picked on and not remotely considered “cool.” But how many cool kids are there, anyway? They’re all in the minority, and as young Greg Heffley writes in the journal his mom gave him, they’ll all be working for him one day.

The books, which have sold more than 40 million copies worldwide, constitute “sort of a mythology built around my family, my growing up,” author Jeff Kinney said in a ComicMix interview. And of course it’s the exaggerated or “mythic” elements that make for much of the humor.

My son loved the books, even as a thirteen year old. But for reasons he couldn’t put his finger on, he was disappointed by the first film adaptation of “Diary of a Wimpy Kid”  (2010). I took a look at the books after watching the movie and think I know why. Something intangible was lost in translation. I thought it was the immediacy of Kinney’s  crude line drawings coupled with the humorous middle-school point of view that made the books effective. When you convert to a live-action movie, it’s basically no different from adapting a comic book for the big screen. It’s an entirely different medium, and things change. For this third movie, more line drawings are included, but strangely so. Like we’ll see Greg (Zachary Gordon) walking down the street with his hand-drawn best friend who then morphs into the live-action Rowley (Robert Capron).

With the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” films Fox dipped into the Disney Channel actors pool, bringing two young talents from the series “Jessie” onboard:  Karan Brar, who fills the stereotypic role of the bright but nerdier-than-nerds Indian lad, and Peyton List, who plays Greg Heffley’s dream girl this outing.

I haven’t read the books that inspired this one, but I have to say, as a parent, that I found it more than surprising that Greg didn’t just do Dennis the Menace sort of mischievous things or act with good intentions that produce bad results. This kid flat-out lies to parents that he has a job, just to get out of going to the internship that his father got him for the summer, and when his “in” evaporates, he actually sneaks into the country club and charges up a storm using other people’s names.

For what it’s worth, my son said he liked “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules” better. Why? “Because the jokes weren’t as stupid,” he told me. Again, I have my own theory. I think the first installment sagged a big under the weight of having to introduce the characters for a screen audience AND figure out how to transfer to the big screen the concept of those line drawings and the journal entries that the fictional Greg Heffley used to document his middle school years. With “Rodrick Rules,” we jumped right into the vignettes that shape each of the “Wimpy Kid” books. It was brisker and directed by David Bowers (“Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” “Flushed Away”).  The plot was more interesting, too, because it showed how two brothers who are at each other like cats and dogs can find ways to connect with each other.

Bowers directs again, but with “Dog Days” and its been-there, done-that screenplay, the franchise takes a step backward. So many of the scenes we’ve seen before—from the crowded pool and to the I-lost-my-swimsuit bit to the nauseatingly wholesome Jefferson family that will remind most viewers of the Flanders from “The Simpsons.” It’s all pretty familiar stuff. When, for example, Greg tries to get close to his dream girl by sneaking into the country club where she gives tennis lessons, it’s hard not to think of the second “High School Musical” movie.  We won’t even get into the painful-to-watch tennis match between the girls and Greg and Rowley, neither of whom has swung a racquet before, or the summer camp segments which were just as hackneyed.

And no amount of moviemaking magic can alter the fact that the books--and, consequently, the films--are intended for a young audience, not a wide range of ages. Parents watching the third installment will laugh a few times, as will the kids, but the second “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” film is still the best . . . and given the mediocrity of this series, that’s not saying much.
“Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days” is rated PG for “some rude humor.”

“Dog Days” comes to Blu-ray via an AVC/MPEG-4 transfer to a 50GB disc (32MPBS), and I saw no problems here or with the audio. Colors are intentionally oversaturated to produce a cheery, slick surface that might come close to a cartoon, and edge delineation is superb. There’s lots of detail here, most evident, as always, in heavily textured surfaces. There’s a very slight layer of film grain, though, which keeps it looking like a film. Fans should have no complaints. “Dog Days” is presented in 2.35:1 aspect ratio.

The featured soundtrack is an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 that’s clear as a bell and includes no distortion. Ambient sounds could have been ramped up a bit more, though, as the rear speakers really seem a bit flaccid and underused. Additional audio options are English Descriptive Audio 5.1 and French or Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks, with subtitles in English SDH and Spanish.

This Blu-ray comes with a DVD and Digital Copy, plus UV. Also “Class Clown” animated comic, a gag reel, FX Movie Channel presents “Wimpy Empire,” and a full-length commentary track by director David Bowers.

Bottom line:
The worldwide box office on “Dog Days” was $77.2 million, and it reportedly cost $22 million to make. Any time you can triple your money in the movie business, you can bet another sequel will follow—especially since it grossed $7 million more than the second installment. Let’s just hope they finally find a way to make the book work on film. 


Film Value