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Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Wimpy Kid Loses Something in Translation

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

It doesn't happen often, but occasionally, Hollywood surprises me. Every so often, those California filmmakers manage to produce a movie I like better than the book on which it's based. Diary of a Wimpy Kid, for example. While Jeff Kinney's novel in cartoons is funny, a fleshed-out storyline coupled with excellent casting, makes the film version hysterical. On-screen, Greg Heffley's story even becomes heartwarming. What never really occurs in the novel plays out in bright Technicolor on the big screen - our scrawny, 7th grade hero learns that there's more to life than following the crowd.

I've watched Hollywood butcher enough novels to know the wisdom of abiding by the timeless adage to Never Judge a Book By Its Movie, but in this case, I think I did. Maybe it's the ole kid to adult lost-in-translation thing, or perhaps because I watched the movie first, the book lost some of its freshness, or who knows? But, when I finally read Diary of a Wimpy Kid, I thought, "Really? This is the book that sends my kids into peals of laughter every time they open it? This is what they've been begging me to read over and over and over?" Between viewing the film and listening to my kids' enthusiastic recommendation, I guess I expected more. Which isn't to say the book's not funny. It is. And I can absolutely see why it appeals to middle grade kids (especially boys) - it's just that I like the movie better. Blasphemy, I know. True, though.

If you're not familiar with the book, it follows Greg as he navigates the treacherous waters of junior high school. As the self-professed wimpy kid tries to blend in with his peers, it quickly becomes apparent that his cool factor needs some upping. It doesn't help that Greg's smaller than his classmates, his best friend Rowley insists (loudly and in public) on asking Greg if he can come over and play, and the only other kid who wants to hang out with him is a boy who likes to chase people around with boogers on his fingers. Clearly, Greg's going to have to reinvent himself. Like now. But freeing himself of excess friend baggage isn't going to be easy. In fact, it's going to hurt a lot more than he could ever imagine.

I've only read the first volume of the Wimpy Kid books (there are 4 more - the newest comes out in November), so I can only assume that Greg's character develops over time instead of Hollywood-fast. As is, he comes off as selfish and heartless in the way he treats Rowley. You can't help feeling sorry for Greg, especially considering he deals with an obnoxious older brother and a humiliating younger one, plus all the degradation that comes with starting junior high, but still ... I wanted to like him more. Between the cartoons Greg draws and his preadolescent sarcasm, the "diary" is funny, upbeat, and quick to read. I totally get why people love it. My kids are just baffled as to why I don't love it as much as they do. Maybe seeing the movie ruined the book for me. I don't know, but I stand by my assessment: Diary of a Wimpy Kid is just okay. Unless you happen to be a middle grader - in that case, it's the best book ever!

Diary of a Wimpy Kid moves so fast that there's no reason not to read it before watching the movie. Just don't be disappointed if the latter feels warmer and more complete than the former. It is. I loved the film. Liked the book alright, but loved the film. Of course, if you happen to have a wimpy kid about to enter middle school, you may want to skip the movie altogether. My son sat through the whole thing going, "Junior High's not really like that, is it?" To which I, of course, replied, "Oh, not at all." Apparently, Greg's not the only one who needs a lesson in truth-telling!

(Readalikes: The other Diary of a Wimpy Kid books; the Dear Dumb Diary series by Jim Benton)

Grade: B-

If this were a movie (and it is!), it would be rated: PG for bathroom humor

To the FTC, with love: Borrowed this one from the kids.


  1. An award for you:

  2. I truly do love these books. Mostly, I think, because they pin down what life for jr. high kid is really like. I haven't seen the movie yet but am really looking forward to renting it soon...maybe this weekend!

  3. Ooh, and I'd heard the movie was lame. Now I will have to check it out!

  4. I guess I will have to check out the movie too. I usually dont like to watch movies of the books I read but I will try this one .

  5. We love the Wimpy kids books simply because they are hysterical. Seriously, we are laughing so hard, we have to wipe our cheeks, and wait for the snorting to subside before we can turn the page. I'll warn you, the main kid doesn't grow up any more in the fourth book than he does the first. There's not really any plot. It's just anecdotal.

    I was really disappointed by the movie. I didn't like it half as much as the book, but that's probably because it just wasn't as funny. Or maybe my son and I just have too much fun picturing things in our head, and it wasn't the same on film.

  6. EF - Thanks so much!

    Suey - Well said. I agree.

    Melissa - I guess not everyone agrees with me about the movie, but I really enjoyed it. Like Susan said, the book is very anecdotal - the movie, on the other hand, had a discernable plot.

    Laura H - I usually don't either, but my kids rented it and BEGGED me to watch it with them. So, I caved :)

    Susan - See, I probably should have read the books first. I do like having a plot, though - pure anecdote drives me a little nuts.

    I really liked the movie. I thought the casting was perfect. I mean, could the kid playing Fregley have been any better? Loved him.


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