Childhood classics are not to be tampered with. Lay siege to the Disney castle. Crash down the gates and kick the heads in of the producers and businessmen that thought Diary of a Wimpy Kid needed another adaptation. To be fair to director Swinton O. Scott III, an animated format makes sense for adapting the work of Jeff Kinney. Faithful the style may be, it is not as if Diary of a Wimpy Kid benefits from it. Why watch this when the books offer the same? Disney+ have cornered the one-hour special and crammed in as much of the pop iconography Kinney offered in the debut book. Not a bad shout when parents are clamouring for a quick hour of peace and a distraction for their kids.
That is what Diary of a Wimpy Kid is. At its core, it is no more than a distraction. Gone is the flavourful leniency and relatability of the book, instead there are performances and styles that are worth very little. Where the animation flourishes, it feels vaguely empty. Captain Underpants elicits the same tones, and just as little an emotive connection. Perhaps it is age and the passing of time that makes Greg Heffley (Brady Noon) so unlikable. Noon is not to blame though; his vocal performance is fine enough for the tone taken and the style that Scott III wishes to provide. Adapting the pages of the book are the nicest the animation gets, but the second the colour scheme is added and the characters begin to move, Diary of a Wimpy Kid loses its brief, niche angle.
To be fair to the cast here, they are talented enough to carry this burden. Noon and Ethan William Childress as Rowley Jefferson are both amicable and entertaining. The mouths of these characters are uncomfortable. They waggle up and down, but because of this animation style feel like an indentation in the face rather than something attached to the head. Creepy and eerie that may be, it does not prevent Diary of a Wimpy Kid from bringing about some relatively strong animation. Some of it looks fine enough. Fregley (Christian Convery) is as awkwardly sinister, as expected, but it loses the tone when he is not a real being. Diary of a Wimpy Kid pales in comparison to its timely live-action edition.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid is just that. A wimpish adaptation of a diary whose fans will have grown up, moved on and out. Solid narratives and well-meaning performances are impossible to accept and enjoy when the animation wavers between mediocrity and vaguely inspired adaptations of Kinney’s work. Cheese touch gags, blurs of animated variety that flutters back and forth between the unique style of the book and the not so unique temperament of the studio executives bringing bright and varied colour to audiences who will have that to latch onto. If they didn’t have that, they’d not quite manage to pay attention for more than a few minutes. Even then, that’s a struggle with or without the animation, for the hour-long feature hopes to flutter through as much as it can with as little effort as possible.