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Note: Check out our Franchise Fracas on the Diary of a Wimpy Kid movies here.
The Diary of a Wimpy Kid film franchise is interesting to me in that this series of films, which now totals three after last friday’s release of Dog Days, have all been successful but haven’t saturated the mainstream quite the way some other young adult film franchises have recently. The style and tone of the Wimpy Kid franchise is far different obviously, but it has been a mammothly popular series of books, but only a decently successful film series. The third film adaptation, Dog Days, continues the trend of being an interesting, competently made and well acted children’s comedy, but it is also somewhat of a step back from the heights of the second movie (although I do feel it is better than the first in the franchise). On with the review!
Dog Days takes place, appropriately, over the course of the summer in between seventh and eighth grade for our main character, Greg Heffley (Zachary Gordon, who is an incredibly gifted young actor). Greg wants to spend his time playing video games, hanging out with best friend Rowley (Robert Capron, who is also gifted as well as a scene stealer), and eat junk food. Greg’s dad Frank, played by Steve Zahn (who has long been a treat in this series) wants his son to come intern at the office, but Greg doesn’t want this, so in a fit of panic Greg lies, claiming he has a job helping out at the country club. This allows him to spend time at the club getting to know love interest Holly Hills (Peyton List) while continuing to hang out with his best friend and shirk the responsibilities his father wants him to grow into. The plot is, much like in the first two, very slice of life and disjointed, but it has also long worked well for the series.
There is a lot to like in Dog Days. Strong performances continue to populate the series. Fan favorite older brother Rodrick (Devon Bostick, who I greatly hope continues getting movie work) is back, and his plan to play a big sweet 16 birthday party with his garage rock band is a highlight in the film. The film remains brightly lit and comic in tone. There are the typical low points for our characters, but the nature of the film demands things keep kinetic and funny throughout. Some of the set pieces, including the aforementioned rock performance as well as a trip to a summer carnival, are well-shot and very funny. Another plot point has Frank trying his best to connect with his son Greg, and their misadventures with a Civil War reenactment as well as a Boy Scout-like camping trip are also funny. For anyone with a strong relationship with their dad, these scenes will resonate.
I do feel like Dog Days is a step back from the second film in the series, Rodrick Rules. Part two, the best of the franchise as far as I’m concerned, had a stronger overall story and a sweeter relationship (one between brothers that was very well done) at its core. Greg really seemed to learn and grow as a character, but becomes something of a blank slate once again for the purposes of the third film. Some truly funny moments in part two were wrought from side characters like Chirag (Karan Brar) and Patty (Laine MacNeil), but these two are on the sidelines for much of the third film. I thought that taking Dog Days away from the central location of the middle school might be a good idea for the third film, but it turns out I missed the setting quite a bit actually. I also think that this film really needed to be released a few months back when school first got out, so it then might have seemed a fresh option to recently-released students. Fox really dropped the ball on the release date as far as I’m concerned, though this isn’t an actual criticism of the film itself.
I liked this film and was entertained throughout. If this is the last of the theatrically-released Diary of a Wimpy Kid movies (and I think it will be — this is the logical endpoint for a movie trilogy), then the series ended on a high point as a whole. Though I don’t feel it is the strongest of the series, it is still a quality film, brightly lit and well shot. It is also consistently funny with some pretty good performances. It has been a treat to see these characters grow and mature from the first film, released way back in the spring of 2010, to this presumptive final film. I hope these young actors continue the craft, growing and maturing into fine performers. Gordon, Capron, and Bostick are just too talented to stop now.