Diary of a Wimpy Kid was a series near and dear to my heart throughout my elementary school days. I looked forward to the scholastic book fairs hosted by my school every year for the sole purpose of reading the latest edition of pre-teen Greg Heffley’s yearly misadventures in the mythical world of middle school. Though often finished in one-sitting, I found joy in re-reading these books over and over again during quiet-time and after long periods of standardized testing.
The original trilogy of movies, starring Zachary Gordon as Greg Heffley, were something I would not appreciate until later in life, however, as I had yet to grasp the adaptation’s more in-depth characterization of the Heffley family. The newest small-screen adaptation of the original novel was released on Disney+ earlier this December, and, though charming in its own right, lacks what made the 2010 film superior to the original novel.
After the release of the fourth installment and soft-reboot of the franchise in 2017, entitled “The Long Haul” and starring a completely new cast, many long-time fans of the series began a movement online known as #notmyrodrick, in protest to the recasting of mainly Devon Bostick, who played Greg’s older brother Rodrick in the original trilogy. Now however, Rodrick is almost completely absent from the movie, save from his brief appearance in the opening scene, a questionable decision given his status as a fan-favorite in the series.
Aside from this missed opportunity, the film feels largely derivative of the original novel. Many plots and jokes carry over from one another without much expansion or depth, while some of the more iconic moments from the book, such as the school musical and the safety patrol arc, are written out completely. While this film may still be appealing to those just wanting a chance to see a childhood favorite come to life in a book-accurate art-style, this release is still dwarfed in comparison to its predecessor.
A common theme throughout the books was Greg’s ego and lack of awareness and empathy towards those around him, coupled with the fact that the novel was told all by his perspective, in which he is a pretty unreliable narrator. While the narrations remain mostly static in the 2021 release, this is exactly the problem.
What made the 2010 version and its sequels superior were not in trying to embrace the cartooniness of the books, but rather them trying to be more true to life and realistic. In these versions, Greg and his family actually learn something by the end of the run-time and grow as people. Greg learns not to worry so much about concepts like popularity and instead realizes the importance of friends and family and decides to stick up for them; he is willing to make sacrifices for their benefit, rather than just for his own needs.