It seems that we will be getting a Diary of a Wimpy Kid animated adaptation every year, but they’re not very good. The last one was mercifully short but felt like a bad CliffsNotes version of Jeff Kinney’s book more than anything else. The second installment, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules, is slightly better, but not by much.
It is, however, a faithful adaptation of the book: Greg (Brady Noon) and Rodrick (Hunter Dillon) throw a party while their parents are gone and almost get in trouble. Greg wants to snitch on Rodrick for locking him and Rowley (Ethan William Childress) up in the basement, but his brother wants him to stop. However, in exchange for his silence, Rodrick must teach him “rules” he must abide by.
Part of the reason why both films don’t work is their animation style. It tries to emulate the style of the book’s stick figure drawings in a 3D environment, but it’s all terribly lifeless and done cheaply. There doesn’t seem to be any life in the environment Greg, Rodrick, and Rowley populate throughout the film, and it’s notably worse when you compare them to the live-action Rodrick Rules, which is vastly superior in every way.
Can an animated adaptation of Diary of a Wimpy Kid work? Absolutely, but there needs to be energy in the frame for the audience to be drawn into the story, which Rodrick Rules and its previous adaptation severely lack. You can’t help but compare the climactic scene in which Löded Diper blows the roof off of the talent show from the live-action film, which was way more hilarious. The song was catchy, and the actors were amazingly game to be as expressive and absurd as possible.
The animated adaptation doesn’t retain the same absurdity or fun level as the live-action Rodrick Rules. And since you can’t help but compare both films, the animated movie is a vastly inferior “remake” of the live-action movie when it was one of the perfect adaptations of a children’s book ever made. It was rare that a sequel would top the original in every way, but the live-action Rodrick Rules did that, especially with Devon Bostick’s career-defining (and star-making) performance as Rodrick.
Rodrick Rules feels like the milquetoast readaptation of Jeff Kinney’s book, even if Kinney himself is writing the script. There’s no life or personality to every scene, which is a shame because an animated adaptation has all of the ingredients for success: the characters of Diary of a Wimpy Kid are exciting and well-written, and the adventures they get into are fun to read. So they would naturally be fun to watch in a movie, whether in live-action or animated form. However, none of the character development is interesting here. Instead, Kinney and director Luke Cormican stay in surface-level characterizations, abridging the book for audiences who seem too young to read.
But the voice cast marginally enjoys themselves more than in the last film. In one of his final film roles as Greg and Rodrick’s grandfather, Ed Asner brings a fun presence to the movie. And the chemistry between Greg and Rodrick is fun to watch, though not on the same level as in the live-action films. There are a couple of funny scenes in the movie, particularly one involving Greg being mistakenly taken as a “Peeping Tom,” as he doesn’t realize he’s in the women’s bathroom and changes his wet pants. It doesn’t sound good, but the physical comedy here is on point and something I would’ve loved to see throughout the entire movie.
Unfortunately, the laughs don’t continue, and Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules will ultimately be forgotten in Disney+’s algorithm. There will be a sequel based on The Last Straw, but Jeff Kinney (and Disney) should reevaluate how they approach these movies instead of churning one out every year. They want to adapt every book in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid franchise, but there needs to be a more significant reason beyond that, especially to draw audiences. As a fan of the books (and the original live-action film trilogy), I don’t want a yearly adaptation if it’s just to rehash parts of the book in animation. It’s boring and feels like a shameless money grab instead of anything else. Let’s hope that The Last Straw will be the franchise’s last straw before they inevitably reboot it in a couple of years.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules is now available to stream on Disney+.