Have you read Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid and seen Thor Freudenthal’s 2010 adaptation of the same name? If yes, you don’t need to watch Swinton O. Scott III’s readaptation (it’s not really a reboot) of Jeff Kinney’s first book told in animated form. Its oddly short runtime makes it feel like a succinct Cliffs Notes version of the book, but its animation and story don’t do anything to impress.
I believe that a Diary of a Wimpy Kid reboot was first announced as a series for Disney+, which would’ve made way more sense if it presented itself as a “limited series” with three to four episodes per season each adapting the different books in an anthology format. Yet another film adaptation telling the exact same story of the previous film adaptation doesn’t seem to warrant its existence, and from someone who grew up reading (and watching) Diary of a Wimpy Kid, I can tell you that you’re better off watching the live-action film for more entertainment.
In his review for the latest adaptation, critic Nicolas Rapold explained that this installment in the franchise “does bear one benefit: no live child actors onscreen who can age out of their roles.” While this is true and will allow Disney to keep churning out installments for the streaming service if enough people liked this one and Rodrick Rules set to release next year, there’s one thing the live-action adaptation had that this one doesn’t: personality. Yes, the 3D animation, while imperfect and rough around the edges, is quite faithful to the book’s simple aesthetic, none of the actors bring out any personality, or expressivity to that matter, in their roles that make them stick out.
Remember the #NotMyRodrick campaign when they recast all the roles for The Long Haul? Audiences attached themselves to Devon Bostick, who completely understood Rodrick’s character traits from the book and literally embodied them in the first three films that he became the character. In the animated film, Rodrick’s just a typical dork who does typical dork things we only see once (or twice, maybe. He’s that forgettable). The same can be said for their two leads, who add no personality to their spins on Greg and Rowley and are easily replaceable by other child actors.
It’s a damn shame, and I don’t blame the actors for this. Brady Noon is a terrific child actor, especially if you’ve seen The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers, and expanding his range with this should’ve been a great entry in his resume. But he’s unfortunately not as memorable as Zachary Gordon made him in the 2010 film, because Scott III and its writer, Kinney himself, don’t feel like they need for Noon to add his own spin to the role. As such, it feels like it doesn’t matter who voiced Greg, Rowley, Rodrick, or Fregley at all, since all they do is say the exact same lines from the book (and the 2010 film) without an ounce of comedic timing, or personality that would make this film stand out from the previous adaptation.
The only thing that makes it stand out is its animation, but, as I’ve mentioned previously, lacks depth or originality for it to truly stand out. It’s a nice enough diversion for an hour or so, but what else does the movie want to offer? It never wants to be visually exciting, or take advantage of the animated medium. It’s no different if you’re reading the book, which is an even bigger shame than wasting its acting talents.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid isn’t interested in crafting an original coming-of-age animated film with colorful and finely-developed characters but is instead insisting on finishing it as soon as possible by doing the most faithful adaptation of the book possible, without the camaraderie between Greg and Rowley, the witty humor that made the book (and first film) so great, and legitimate comedic timing. For small kids, it may be a fine thing to watch and forget in a few days, but for those who are looking for something better, and more compelling, the 2010 film is right there. Let’s just hope the sequel will be better.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid is now streaming on Disney+.