Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days
What It Is
When you’re a wimpy kid, you want to be a less wimpy kid, or least appear to be a less wimpy kid. This is the premise of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books and movies, all of which feature the narration of the titular kid, as he both observes and tries to control what goes on around him.
The third movie, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days, begins as seventh grade ends and Greg (Zachary Gordon) starts summer vacation, with hopes that this one will be the best ever. That means, he explains (and the film illustrates, in the stick-figures-on-notebook-paper animation that is the hallmark of the books by Jeff Kinney as well as the movies), that he’ll play videogames all day, every day. All he has to do is “stay a step ahead” of his father Frank (Steve Zahn) and mom Susan (Rachael Harris).
That effort to stay a step ahead takes place on two fronts, as mom starts a Book Club for the neighborhood kids (first up: Little Women) and dad appears determined to get Greg to play outdoors. To avoid such obligations and, more importantly, to pursue his still-hoped-for romance with Holly (Peyton List) (which was initiated at the end of the second movie, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules), Greg trails along with his longtime best friend Rowley (Robert Capron) to the country club. Here he discovers the pleasures of the private pool as compared to the public one his family frequents: less crowding, smoothies delivered on a tray, and no unruly children peeing in the water.
Greg’s attempts not to be a wimpy kid are increasingly complicated. Now that he’s found a way inside the club, he wants to be able to go every day. This means lying to his father about having a job at the club and also being blackmailed by his older brother Rodrick (Devon Bostick), who guesses he does not have a job. It turns out that Rodrick has an interest in Holly’s completely snooty 16-year-old sister Heather (Melissa Roxburgh), and so he wants to come along to the country club too. This only complicates Greg’s lie: he has to pretend to have a job and sneak his brother inside through a back door, all so he can say hi to Holly, or maybe try to impress her with a high dive into the pool.
The best idea in the film is that Greg’s relationship with his dad is evolving. Frank is no longer only red-faced and sputtering. Now, after Susan scolds him for trying to dodge his responsibility and instructs him pointblank to “Be the father you wish you’d had,” Frank makes it a mission to spend more time with Greg. For him, this means a series of nonsensical (but outdoors!) activities: Frank brings Greg along on a fishing trip, on a Civil War reenactment, and on a camping trip with his old Wilderness Explorers troop. At one point, in the midst of competing with a neighbor, dad goes so far as to bring home a dog, huge and drooly and mayhem-ready, so that he and Greg can bond over trying to keep secret a mildly gross episode involving mom’s pot roast.
If Greg’s summer doesn’t quite go as he planned, it does adhere to the franchise’s predictable pattern. He gets in trouble, he feels humiliated, and he learns a couple of lessons. When he makes a mistake, he should not lie, but take responsibility, and — as you have known all along — he and his dad are more like each other than not.
Why It’s Fun
The best part of this third installment is the evolving relationship with Greg and his father. While Steve Zahn has mostly been asked to perform pratfalls and make goofy faces in the first two films, here Frank is reading Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the United States and spending more on-screen time with his boy.
Rodrick remains an amusing oddball among the very straight suburban types who populate the Diary of a Wimpy Kid movies here again, he imagines that singing in his rock band, Loded Diper, will help him win the girl he wants, and here again, he delivers a ridiculous and entertaining performance. Hired for a Sweet Sixteen birthday party, he shows up in pencil jeans and mascara, then begins wailing Justin Bieber’s “Baby” so badly that even the clueless parents know something’s wrong.
Who’s Going To Love It
Fans of the other Diary of a Wimpy Kids movies may appreciate the continuity. Churned out at a remarkable rate of one a year, the movies offer right-aged kids (unlike, say, those super-profitable, mammoth, effects-heavy franchises that take years between sequels).
But the kids’ problems and attitudes don’t change so much, which means they can be repetitive. So, the littlest brother, Manny (still played by Connor and Owen Fielding) remains mostly silent and sort of perpetually three or four years old, the occasion for jokes rather than a person in his own right.
Fans of the previous movies will also remember a couple of Greg’s classmates, Patty (Laine MacNeil) and Chirag (Karan Brar). Before, these two were more integral to the main plots; here, they’re more like extras who pop in to perform a couple of gags.
What To Be Aware Of
The violence is mild and cartoonish. Greg falls down, gets hit by tennis balls, falls into pools, slides around in mud and in dog drool, runs away from Civil War re-enactors, and watches Rodrick’s big rock band performance, which ends in feeble pyrotechnics, not to mention tables, an ice sculpture, and a chocolate fountain crashing to the ground.
Gross-out gags feature dog drool, pee, and worms.
The other trouble he gets into is less physical, more emotional: he disobeys Rowley’s parents, lies to his parents, manipulates his friends, and sends out an email he should not, to an email list on someone else’s machine.
Greg ends up in an embarrassing situation in a pool, left all day without his trunks and unable to get out: his fingers turn pruny.
Despite the fact that Greg spends time with Rowley’s well-to-do family at the country club and then again “at the shore,” he doesn’t spend much time thinking about class differences. Still, the movie lays out a couple of differences for you to contemplate: rich people might have different rules for behavior and different expectations about their futures, but they can be as callous or as vulnerable, as mean or as considerate, as people who don’t belong to country clubs. Still, as an outsider to this world, Greg helps to highlight, if not exactly critique, the insiders’ assumptions.
5 out of 10
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days
Director: David Bowers
Cast: Zachary Gordon, Robert Capron, Devon Bostick
Studio: 20th Century Fox
US General Release: August 3, 2012
UK General Release: August 3, 2012