The fanboys have to face facts: the trilogy of summer movies about their favorite hero has come to its end. No, not Batman—I speak, of course, of Greg Heffley, the middle-school protagonist of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. Like The Dark Knight Rises, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days reunites the core cast of previous entries and maintains a tonal consistency. Here again is Everyboy—and pathological liar—Greg (Zachary Gordon), his parents (Steve Zahn and Rachael Harris), his punky older brother Rodrick (Devon Bostick) and blithering younger brother Manny (Connor & Owen Fielding), and Greg’s pudgy, loyal-to-a-fault best friend Rowley Jefferson (Robert Capron).
Fear not, Wimpy Kid fans: Greg’s crush Holly Hills (Peyton List), nemesis Patty Ferrell (Laine MacNeil), and classmates Fregley (Grayson Russell) and Chirag (Karan Brar) also appear in this summer-themed adventure that picks up where Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules left off, at the end of Greg’s seventh-grade year. This valedictory movie derives from Jeff Kinney’s illustrated novels The Last Straw and Dog Days, adapted by husband-and-wife screenwriters Maya Forbes (Monsters vs Aliens) & Wallace Wolodarsky (The Simpsons).
As for the tone, it’s strictly middle-school slapstick—like a sequence in which a mishap causes Greg accidentally to skinny dip at the country club—and middle-class worries, like how to dodge parental expectations and play video games instead. Even for an episodic kiddie farce, Dog Days seems overly familiar in its comic premises (oh no! peeing in the municipal pool!) and conflicts (“Me and my dad have absolutely nothing in common”), but it’ll all be new to its intended audience, who are likely to lap it up as happily as the Heffleys’ new mutt Sweetie at his water dish.
Like its predecessors, Dog Days offers a mostly shapeless plot, as Greg gets into varieties of trouble, shooting himself in the foot when it comes to his friendship, courtship, and family life. The main thread involves Greg lying about having a job at the Plainview Heights Country Club so he can spend time around Holly; as a result, dedicated gamer Greg realizes the outdoors aren’t so bad after all.
And so Dog Days gently imparts a lesson or two, about taking responsibility for and learning from mistakes (though Greg never seems to). Also, this entry wisely amplifies the role of the lovably goofy Zahn as Greg and his dad come to terms. But the oddest thing about the movie isn’t the immediate realization that Gordon’s voice has irrevocably changed; it’s that this kid-lit adaptation hardcore disses reading.
[This review first appeared in Palo Alto Weekly.]
Fox's latest Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy home-video release for Diary of a Wimpy Kid is as consistent as the movie series itself, again delivering more-than-adequate A/V and a smattering of bonus features. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days comes with a Sunny Delite-bright, tight, vibrantly colorful hi-def transfer that doesn't sacrifice the source's filmic nature but rather retains light grain. Don't expect as much from the lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mix: consider it definitive, but also lackluster. The sound design doesn't incorporate much rear-channel activity, other than some basic ambience for the various settings; then again, the film doesn't really demand much more than that, and the front-and-center dialogue is always perfectly clear.
Bonus features kick off, unexpectedly, with an audio commentary by director David Bowers, and while it's difficult to imagine many delving into this track, precocious kids interested in the filmmaking process could do worse than give it a listen, as Bowers gives a nicely detailed overview of making the film.
Ten "Deleted Scenes" (9:43, HD), including an alternate ending, come with optional commentary by Bowers.
Brand-new Diary of a Wimpy Kid animated short "Class Clown" (2:57, HD) points to the probable animated future of the franchise, though this short's brevity is a missed opportunity to generate excitement for that new direction.
Cable promo "Fox Movie Channel Presents Wimpy Empire" (9:55, SD) offers film clips and interviews with Wimpy Kid creator Jeff Kinney and his wife.
Rounding out the disc are a fun "Gag Reel" (5:01, HD) and the "Theatrical Trailer" (1:47, HD).
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