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 loves 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 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 jump right into the vignettes that shape each of the "Wimpy Kid" books. It's brisker, and maybe the difference-maker is as simple as a change in direction from Thor Freudenthal ("Hotel for Dogs") to David Bowers ("Who Framed Roger Rabbit," "Flushed Away").
But 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 second installment won't find it quite as tedious as the first, though. Partly that's because parents are invited to see things from their children's perspective, and that can be an eye-opener. In "Rodrick Rules," the boys' parents (Steve Zahn, Rachael Harris) are tired of the two of them fighting all the time, and so Susan Heffley decides to give out "Mom Bucks" for good behavior. The interesting thing is, older brother Rodrick (Devon Bostick) and young Greg (Zachary Gordon) draw closer to each other not because of Mom's "carrots," but because of the threat of her "stick." When the parents leave and Rodrick uses their absence as an opportunity to throw a party at the Heffley house that Greg also attends with his friend, Greg helps him get the house back in shape and "cover up" any dead giveaways that they've been up to mischief. As in warfare, there's nothing like a common cause against a common enemy to bring testy people closer together.
That's the main plot thread in "Rodrick Rules," but there's more. Greg is starting seventh grade and feeling relieved when he sees the sixth graders getting picked on. But he still has crosses to bear, including his own inability to approach a girl he likes (Peyton List as Holly). It's the heartwarming and poignant moments that give this film heft, but while the laughs come more frequently in the sequel than in the original, there still aren't enough--and certainly not enough laugh-out-loud moments. Gordon and Bostick are asked to carry the movie, and they do a great job of shouldering the burden, with a little help from Robert Capron, who plays Greg's sidekick Rowley. And what's not to love about a movie in which the older brother's band is called Löded Diaper?
"Rodrick Rules" comes to Blu-ray via an AVC/MPEG-4 transfer to a 50GB disc, and I saw no problems. 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. "Rodrick Rules" 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. The only additional audio option is a French Dolby Digital 5.1 track, with subtitles in English SDH and Spanish.
Not much here. I've always wondered why anyone bothered to create a commentary track for a kids movie. Pop-up trivia track, I could understand, but what audience of kids wants to hear people talking about the movie? I think a better format would have been a conversation at a table with director Bowers and author Kinney, or with Kinney taking Bowers on a tour of his art studio and the two of them talking for five minutes about the film and why they did what they did. Other than that, there are 10 super-short deleted scenes with optional commentary by Bowers, an even shorter gag reel, the trailer, and a nine-minute collage of the young cast in character talking about their summer hijinks. Oh, and there's BD-Live connectivity, if anyone cares.
If you don't think about a classic kids point-of-view childhood reminiscence like "A Christmas Story," or "Wonder Years," you'll walk away thinking "Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules" is a fairly successful and entertaining film. But how can you avoid comparisons like that? Still, this film was a Nickelodeon Kids' Choice Award Winner, and that has to count for something.