Charming but not cloying, this movie based on the popular book is one clique to pick.
I generally rank children’s movies by asking myself, “How many limbs would I hack off to escape this movie’s clutches?” In the case of “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days” – none. Maybe a toe. This is pretty solid praise.
The film is a live-action adaptation of Jeff Kinney’s illustrated novel, and while I miss his stick-figure character designs, the cast is not bad. Zachary Gordon plays Greg, who is trying to survive year one of middle school. He’s smart, funny and deeply self-centered, obsessed with his place in the popularity pecking order, but scarcely noticing that his classmates have feelings, too. Gordon is likable even when Greg is acting like a goof, which is often. He has the exuberance and vulnerability to make Greg relatable, not just a wimpy sad sack.
His sidekick, Rowley, is an artless butterball with an unsinkably sweet disposition. Robert Capron plays this character with a few more layers than the stock fat kid part. As he begins to realize that his best friend wants to ditch him for the cool kids, his bruised innocence and injured pride are touching. He calls to mind a junior-edition John Candy.
The cool kids want no part of Greg, and the film is essentially a series of calamities and humiliations befalling him. There are male and female bullies, stern school authorities and any number of troubles that Greg brings on himself by acting pretentious.
Rowley’s instinctive goodness teaches Greg important lessons, but it doesn’t feel cloying. No kiddie movie would be complete without spazzy supporting characters, booger jokes, yucky food and toilet humor. “Diary” delivers them in abundance without straying too far from Disney Channel wholesomeness. Chloe Moretz, the wise little sister from “(500) Days of Summer,” pops up enjoyably as a student journalist responsible for exposés like “Cheerleader Gains Pound!”
This is a nice little movie. Now all you kids get off my lawn! ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days’
* * *
Cast: Zachary Gordon, Devon Bostick, Rachael Harris, Robert Capron, Steve Zahn
Director: David Bowers
Running time: 1:34
Rating: PG; rude humor, language