Good, clean -- if fleeting -- fun
By Sean O’Connell
Friday, August 3, 2012
The “Wimpy” kid residing in all of us should find ample heart, hearty laughs and heaping helpings of wholesome humiliation in “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days,” the third chapter in what has become a winning, family-friendly film franchise.
As is the case with any sequel, newcomers unfamiliar with either Jeff Kinney’s best-selling “Wimpy Kid” books or the two movies they’ve already inspired will be puzzled by the unusual components fans embrace. Take note: Loded Diper is a terrible punk-rock band, while Fregley remains the lovably awkward nerd whose personal grooming habits leave a lot to be desired.
Champions of the endearing series, however, can celebrate the fact that the major creative players -- including “Rodrick Rules” director David Bowers -- return to ensure that “Dog Days” trots down the same humorous paths carved by its predecessors.
But my, how they’re changing. Fourteen-year-old Zachary Gordon, playing put-upon “Kid” Greg Heffley for the third time, is undergoing the unavoidable growth spurts and vocal octave drops that arrive with puberty. At this rate, the next film in the ongoing series will have to be titled “Diary of a Wimpy Young Adult.”
Greg’s personal interests also are maturing in an effort to keep up with the franchise’s preteen demographic. Secret freckles, magic shows and the dreaded Cheese Touch are so “middle school.” Greg and his best friend, Rowley (Robert Capron), are ready for eighth grade, but not before they fill their summer vacation with video-game marathons, pool parties at the neighborhood country club and -- if Greg’s lucky -- some one-on-one time with the lovely Holly Hills (Peyton List), his schoolgirl crush.
After getting his feet wet on “Rodrick Rules,” Bowers digs a little deeper into the personality tics of the dysfunctional Heffley clan. A onetime animator himself (his credits include “An American Tail,” “FernGully” and “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”), Bowers also makes better use of the rudimentary stick-figure cartoons Kinney weaves throughout his books. They make for clever visual bridges between the seemingly disconnected episodes in the “Dog Days” script, which was assembled by veteran joke writers Wallace Wolodarsky (“The Simpsons”) and Maya Forbes (“The Larry Sanders Show”).
“Dog Days” rarely strays from its core mission of imparting valuable life lessons as it reenacts the perils of pre-pubescence. Dependably goofy Steve Zahn adds a fresh layer to the frazzled father, Frank Heffley, who tries to instill in Greg a proper work ethic. Devon Bostick continues to make older sibling Rodrick an enjoyable screen villain. (His off-key rendition of Justin Bieber’s hit “Baby” also happens to be the funniest “Dog Days” scene.) Spending time with Kinney’s characters has become an annual treat.
But how long can it last? From its opening scene -- in which Greg must maneuver his way through a locker room filled with naked, hairy old men -- to a running subplot involving the disposal of baby brother Manny’s security blanket -- so much of “Dog Days” reminds us that aging is inevitable; we all need to grow up, settle down and move beyond the adolescent distraction that brings us such joy.
Hollywood, too, will eventually outgrow this “Wimpy” series and move on. That’s a shame. It really captures what it feels like to be a kid.
Contains some rude humor.