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Photo by: Rob McEwan

Diary of a Wimpy Kid

  • Directed by Thor Freudenthal
  • Written by Jackie Filgo and Jeff Filgo
  • Starring Zachary Gordon, Robert Capron, Rachel Harris, Steve Zahn and Devon Bostick
  • Classification: PG

Author-cartoonist and game designer Jeff Kinney has sold 16 million books - most going to tender-hearted parents who quickly redirect them to eager preteens. Why the rush? The Diary of a Wimpy Kid series is badly needed on the front line of adolescence. That would be middle school, when fast-growing kids step in front of funhouse mirrors. Suddenly, legs stretch into stilts. Noses and chins argue over directions.

Screenwriters Jackie and Jeff Filgo transfer Kinney's journal into a series of blackout sketches. All the familiar grade-school terrors are here: sadistic phys ed teachers who make weaklings doff their tops, merciless teenage brothers, pink eye.

For those unfamiliar with Kinney's oeuvre, the characters running for their lives, like baby turtles being chased by gulls to the sea, are Greg Heffley and Rowley Jefferson - best friends entering Grade 6. Greg (Zachary Gordon) plans on being famous. Maybe even as early as Grade 7. Rowley (Robert Capron), a chubby innocent who can make his navel talk, just wants to be Greg's buddy.

Series fans will enjoy seeing the boys up and about. The first minutes, as we're introduced to the Heffley family, then watch Greg and Rowley botch the first day of classes, are easy fun. The animated bits also work well, as the boys stroll out of Greg's diary as smiling stick figures, morphing into real, live 11-year-olds.

Too soon though - maybe 30 minutes in - audience laughs turn to chuckles, fading to worn smiles. The problem with the movie of Diary of a Wimpy Kid is there is too much diary, not enough movie. The film is a series of brief, related stories that unfold with the wearying rhythm of a book of four-panel cartoons. Greg's antagonistic relationship with nemesis Patty Ferrell (Laine MacNeil) never builds to anything. It just shows up on different pages.

Perhaps director Thor Freudenthal ( Hotel For Dogs) was intimidated by the project. He never tries to make Greg's diary his own and is seemingly content to trace over Kinney's existing cartoon entries. That's no way to make a movie.

The film does contain one performance to savour: Capron's interpretation of Rowley is remarkably free of guile. He looks and acts like any 11-year-old explorer. Rowley's every step on the strange planet that is middle school, including an encounter with a wayward freckle hair, is a breathless adventure.

Special to The Globe and Mail