In keeping with the stick-figure line-drawings and overall comic-book nature of Jeff Kinney’s ultra-popular Diary Of A Wimpy Kid children’s books, the film adaptation is cartoony, both literally and figuratively. It periodically mixes in line-drawing animation, in the style of the books, to illustrate or punctuate the action; that visual sensibility livens things up considerably, and gives the film a loose, playfully arch American Splendor feel. At the same time, the characters are almost as two-dimensional as their line-art counterparts, and the story might be difficult even for kids to buy: This is a world where the most popular kid in middle school can be the fat, endlessly chipper nerd who likes wearing bright sweater-vests and publicly dancing with his mom, in a routine they’ve choreographed for some reason to Beastie Boys’ “Intergalactic.”
Still, for all its ridiculousness, its enthusiastic comic excess, and its fart/booger/gross-out jokes, Diary Of A Wimpy Kid’s heart is firmly in the right place. Zachary Gordon stars as Greg Heffley, a weedy little twerp who’s about to start middle school and is determined to be the most popular kid there. His overwhelming confidence in his own awesomeness is much of what makes the film fun; in spite of his avowed wimpiness, he’s no bullied sad-sack, he’s just having a hard time synching his expectations with reality. (His smugness leads to the film’s best gag, as he confidently imagines his future as a rich, well-muscled stud with a mansion and groveling servants comprised of his former tormenters.) Sadly, his attempts to be popular all backfire, and lead to him repeatedly betraying his best friend Rowley (Robert Capron), that fat nerd who outpaces him socially just by enthusiastically being himself. Could there be some sort of heartfelt lesson there? Perhaps communicated via CGI assists and further gross-out humor?
Director Thor Freudenthal (Hotel For Dogs) presents all this with upbeat spasticity; the film’s energy is relentless, good-humored, and over-the-top enough to be a little exhausting. There’s no subtlety or nuance whatsoever to the characters or story, which tend to bray their feelings to the cheap seats. Fortunately, those seats are likely to be full of little kids who are themselves full of Twizzlers and soda, and thus are operating on the exact same wavelength.