The Diary of a Wimpy Kid movie franchise continues to grow with Dog Days. That doesn’t mean it continues to mature, mind you. But fans of Jeff Kinney’s award-winning books and the films they inspire wouldn’t have it any other way. Even fans of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books (a group to which my sons and I subscribe) have to be a little bit surprised that 20th Century Fox was able to squeeze a trilogy out of Jeff Kinney’s witty, observational, adolescent novels. The reason the franchise has been able to endure on screen, however, likely traces back to the initial casting made by executive producers long before the first reel of film was developed. Zachary Gordon, Devon Bostick, Steve Zahn and Rachael Harris are so perfectly attuned to characters on Kinney’s pages that we no longer think of the stick-figure caricatures which litter the author’s pages. We now think of the actors, and the touches they bring to each role.
That being said, this can’t go on much longer, right? With Dog Days, the third movie in the series, young Gordon looks like he’s ready for his freshman year at college, and not a middle-schooler still trying to figure out how to romance the sweetly innocent Holly Hills (Peyton List), tolerate his needy best friend (Robert Capron), and foil his older brother’s schemes at every turn. I’m not sure how Fox could continue with Wimpy Kid franchise without recasting the main leads, and, as stated above, that would be a devastating blow.
So, if this is the final adventure, what can fans expect? Well, school’s out for summer, and Greg (Gordon) wants to waste his days drinking soda, playing video games, and chasing Holly. Greg’s father (Zahn), has other plans, leading to a Three’s Company-inspired subplot about our lazy hero lying about having a job at a country club, where he runs up snack-bar tabs and causes all sorts of mild problems for all involved.
Dog Days bounces along under the steady guidance of director David Bowers, who helmed Rodrick Rules and comprehends what makes this series – and the beloved characters – tick. It’s silly and gross in all of the places that kids want it to be silly and gross, and there are just enough smarter-than-expected gags to keep parents emotionally and intellectually invested. This isn’t Pixar. But it isn’t pretending to be Pixar, and that matters.
It will be interesting to see where the Wimpy Kid films go from here. Because Fox has kept the budgets low, the films turn a profit, even though their overall grosses have gone down year to year. The movies might not survive. But Kinney just released The Third Wheel, the latest book in the long-running literary series, so fans can take solace that this won’t be goodbye for these characters, by any means. Just like the film franchise, the Blu-ray disc for Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days has been lovingly crafted with Kinney’s fans in mind.
The video quality of the transfer is top-notch, though “heat” in some spots makes for a grainy presentation. Director David Bowers isn’t shooting on 70mm. The Wimpy Kid movies often look one step up from an afterschool special, and Dog Days is no different. But it’s not aimed at film-school students, just at pre-teens looking for a laugh.
They’ll find the biggest laughs on a 5-minute gag reel, which has the young cast flubbing lines and breaking up takes with chuckles. Fans also will get a big kick out of “Class Clown,” a three-minute animated cartoon that Kinney contributed to this Blu-ray documenting the further adventures of Greg, Rowley and the gang.
Those looking to dig a little deeper into the actual filmmaking process are advised to skip to the two-part “Fox Movie Channel Presents Wimpy Empire,” which explores Kinney’s background and career. It gives an excellent example of the author’s day-to-day activities, and maps out the influence he has had on the youth-lit culture. (Hint: He’s massive.) Move from “Wimpy Empire” to the audio commentary track and the 10 deleted scenes Fox has packed onto the Blu-ray. There’s even an alternate ending, which didn’t work as well as the one Bowers actually ran with.
The disc concludes with standard supplemental feartures, from a Dog Days trailer and promos for Fox movies to a BD-Live button that, at the moment, takes you to a site that doesn’t have content.
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