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Diary of a Wimpy Kid DVD Review

Diary of a Wimpy Kid movie poster Diary of a Wimpy Kid

Theatrical Release: March 19, 2010 / Running Time: 92 Minutes / Rating: PG / Songs List

Director: Thor Freudenthal / Writers: Jackie Filgo, Jeff Filgo, Gabe Sachs, Jeff Judah (screenplay); Jeff Kinney (book)

Cast: Zachary Gordon (Greg Heffley), Robert Capron (Rowley Jefferson), Rachael Harris (Susan Heffley), Steve Zahn (Frank Heffley), Devon Bostick (Rodrick Heffley), Connor Fielding & Owen Fielding (Manny Heffley), Chloë Grace Moretz (Angie Steadman), Grayson Russell (Fregley), Laine MacNeil (Patty Farrell), Karan Brar (Chirag Gupta), Alex Ferris (Collin), Andrew McNee (Coach Malone), Belita Moreno (Mrs. Norton), Rob LaBelle (Mr. Bertrand Winsky), Nicholas Carey (Pete Hosey), Samuel Patrick Chu (Carter), Donnie MacNeil (Wade), Samantha Page (Shelly), Ava Hughes (Marley)

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Based on the first of Jeff Kinney's growing series of children's books, Diary of a Wimpy Kid centers on Greg Heffley, an average boy who is driven to become popular upon starting middle school. Greg (Zachary Gordon) is short, skinny, and without any discernible talent.
As the title suggests, he keeps a diary (he'd prefer we call it a "journal", actually) of scribblings and stick figures to document and decipher the life of an unexceptional sixth grader.

Against his mean older brother's (Devon Bostick) advice, Greg remains close to his longtime best friend, overweight, overexcited Rowley Jefferson (Robert Capron). Greg and Rowley struggle to fit in, getting stuck on the first day eating lunch on the cafeteria floor with Fregley (Grayson Russell), the least popular kid in school.

Greg figures the path to social status requires an extracurricular activity. He tries his hand at wrestling, performing in the school musical, and being a safety patrol officer. None of those seem to pan out as desired and Greg discovers achieving popularity is less predictable than he thought. While trying to elevate his standing, Greg harms his kinship with Rowley, who finds a new best friend and effortlessly climbs the ladder.

Wimpy protagonist Greg Heffley (Zachary Gordon) welcomes you to the world he chronicles in his diary, er, journal. Looking at the extracurricular bulletin board, best friends Rowley Jefferson (Robert Capron) and Greg Heffley (Zachary Gordon) contemplate what activity to sign up for.

I guess middle school is a rite of passage for many kids around the globe. In the three years before high school, pre-teens and young teenagers apparently have the chance to for their reputation to be rewritten and their personality redefined. As someone who attended schools that ran from kindergarten to 8th grade, I missed out on that experience. But I feel I got the gist of it watching Cory, Shawn, and Topanga move from 6th grade to the six-year high school from which they would graduate in four seasons of "Boy Meets World." Is it wrong that I can admit that without the slightest bit of embarrassment or depression?

Diary actually reminded me a lot of Season 1 "Boy Meets World", with Greg displaying the same hopes and insecurities that Ben Savage's curly-haired protagonist once did. The movie covers much of the same ground as the '90s TGIF staple with less skill and no laugh track but nearly as episodic a form. If, as the case may well be, you are more familiar with a different portrayal of upper elementary school life, you may likely draw your own parallel.

Though Kinney's first book was only published in 2007, there is very little to distance this universe from those of, say, Judy Blume or Roald Dahl. Kids can be cliquish and cruel, and the smallest thing can determine what end of teasing or bullying you're on. Diary doesn't rewrite the rules or reconfigure the sides, and even its journal-keeping angle does little to distinguish it from other lightly comedic children's fare. But the movie is earnest and level-headed, making sure to deliver as many sage, tactful reassurances as bodily jokes.

The film's resolution and turns getting there are pretty transparent. Perhaps the biggest question is how an old moldy piece of Swiss cheese poetically decomposing on the playground will factor into the lessons learned.

Big brother Rodrick (Devon Bostwick), of the rock band Löded Diper, provides menacing threats and unhelpful guidance. 7th grade loner Angie Steadman (Chloë Grace Moretz) reveals that Greg and Rowley aren't the only ones who think to hide out under the bleachers.

Save for current video game glimpses, technology is practically absent, rendering this story accessible beyond kids, parents, and teachers. In fact, certain bits are clearly aimed at 1980s teens (a dated self-esteem educational video and a play director who rehearses students by having them take turns singing Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse of the Heart").
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But the movie is first and foremost for today's kids, forgoing more extensive nostalgia and playing strongest with those who haven't yet entered middle school.

The film's relatively novice child actors impress, finding effective delivery without coming across as actors. They get to do the majority of work and Diary doesn't even waste time or money giving teacher cameos to celebrities. Playing Greg's parents, Rachael Harris and Steve Zahn are neither over- nor underused, providing nice support without having to do heavy comedic lifting. A young actress who seems destined for big stardom, Chloë Grace Moretz of Kick-Ass fame/infamy, plays new invention Angie Steadman, a 7th grade school newspaper writer whose wisdom Greg shuns.

Children's movies that are short on visual effects and imaginative concepts tend to be modest box office performers. (Bridge to Terabithia, one recent exception, was sold on false pretenses.) Diary of a Wimpy Kid didn't exactly overthrow that trend, but its nearly $65 million domestic gross on a $15 production budget made it quite profitable. 20th Century Fox appreciated that, especially in a year that's found their far more expensive movies (The A-Team, Knight & Day, Percy Jackson & the Olympians) barely reaching higher. The studio was so pleased with Diary's numbers that they've greenlit and fast-tracked a sequel, Diary of a Wimpy Kid 2: Rodrick Rules, to start shooting in August and open in theaters on March 25, 2011.

That gives you just under eight months to see the original film beforehand. It comes to DVD and a Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy combo pack next Tuesday, August 3rd.

Buy Diary of a Wimpy Kid on DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English), Dolby Surround (Spanish, French)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: August 3, 2010
Suggested Retail Price: $29.98
Also available on Blu-ray Disc + DVD + Digital Copy Combo ($39.99 SRP)

VIDEO and AUDIO

Per Fox's long-held policy, pre-street date press mailings are limited to watermarked DVD-R screeners, which give no indication of the final product's quality. We can assume it will look better than this, which unpleasantly compresses the film and its bonus features to a single-layered DVD-R. We intend to provide an assessment of the Blu-ray and DVD's feature presentations when Fox makes them available next week.

Unpopular weirdo Fregley (Grayson Russell) shares some of his more treasured finds (fudge and French fries) in this Scavenger Hunt short. The DVD's main menu compares the film's characters to their illustrated literary counterparts, in this case an open-mouthed Rowley.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

Diary of a Wimpy Kid's modest collection of DVD extras begins with ten "Deleted Diary Pages" (9:40). Six of these are the deleted scenes you'd expect, while three are first-person addresses from the supporting characters Fregley (Grayson Russell) and Chirag Gupta (Karan Brar). The last listing holds five of Rowley's comic strips for the school paper, each ending in the line "Zoo-Wee Mama!"
A "Play All" option is missed, especially on the brief deleted scenes which run just 20 to 50 seconds each (Fregley and Chirag's shorts are almost 3 minutes).

Next comes an audio commentary by director Thor Freudenthal (Hotel for Dogs) and Gabe Sachs, one of the film's four credited screenwriters. Freudenthal does most of the speaking and talks over most of the film, focusing on specifics and more on production than adaptation. Some of the topics discussed include working with kids and using bluescreen for the (highly artificial) snowy town shot. I'm guessing the target audience won't be too enthralled.

Then, we get the theatrical trailer (1:50) for Diary of a Wimpy Kid, an easy, obvious, and highly welcome inclusion which opens with a deleted gag presented above.

The disc loads with ads for simple, fast, portable digital copies, Ramona and Beezus, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Marmaduke, and Space Chimps 2: Zartog Strikes Back. None of these are found on the "Sneak Peek" menu, which instead holds promos for Tooth Fairy, Flicka 2, Strawberry Shortcake: The Berryfest Princess Movie, Fox Family Favorites, Percy Jackson & the Olympians, and Marley & Me: The Terrible 2's.

Finally, there is a 3½-minute video explaining how to make use of digital copies. It's got the stylings of the "I'm a Mac. I'm a PC." commercials, but it's dead serious and hilariously detailed. With Marmaduke combo preorders showing up sans digital copy, it seems like Fox may already be reconsidering digital copies as a standard inclusion.

The DVD's menus predictably give us animated renderings of the diary sketches and screen-filling clips.

Halloween is observed by a highly visible knight and a bearded pirate. Greg's embarrassing pinning by a pigtailed girl (Laine MacNeil) is captured for the school newspaper.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Diary of a Wimpy Kid doesn't do much to distinguish itself from other middle school comedies, but it remains sufficiently likable and diverting. The movie will most appeal to the pre-teen demographic, to whom it will seem freshest.

Fox's DVD displays no more creativity than the film it holds. Fans may want more, but most may be satisfied with the 10-minute "deleted diary pages" section. The quality of the feature presentation and the Blu-ray exclusive extras are yet to be seen. Even with a sequel in pre-production, this movie doesn't seem like a great candidate for a superior re-release, so potential buyers weary of upgrades can probably rest easy. Most viewers will be better served by a rental.

More on the DVD / Buy from Amazon.com / Buy Blu-ray & DVD Combo / Buy the Book

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Max Keeble's Big MoveThe Last Day of SummerHocus PocusThe Last MimzyDrillbit Taylor
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Diary of a Wimpy Kid Songs List (in order of use): The Vines - "Ride", Kaiser Chiefs - "Never Miss a Beat", The International Sejong Soloists - "The Four Seasons (Autumn)", Scott Kinney - "More Than I Can Do (Instrumental Version)", Löded Diper - "Time to Die", White Demons - "Tear It Up", Ali Dee - "Super Freak", Generationals - "When They Fight, They Fight", Smash Mouth - "Hot", Ali Dee and the Deekompressors - "Up Rock (Slow Version)", Brian Tichy - "Live to Rock", Electric Six - "Danger! High Voltage", Teddybears feat. Mad Cobra - "Cobrastyle", Salt 'n' Pepa feat. En Vogue - "Whatta Man", 1990s - "You're Supposed to Be My Friend", "O.K. Mr. Hillbilly", "We Three Trees", "Total Eclipse of the Heart", Chic - "Le Freak", Jukebox The Ghost - "The Popular Thing", Beastie Boys - "Intergalactic", Forever The Sickest Kids - "What Do You Want From Me"

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Reviewed July 28, 2010.



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