Based on the ninth book in the wildly popular children’s book series by Jeff Kinney, “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul” takes place a year after the events of the last film 2012 “Dog Days” but don’t expect to see many familiar faces.
Original star Zachary Gordon aged out of the title teenager role and was replaced by newcomer Jason Drucker. Also recast was Devon Bostick who played the popular Roderick character. Charlie Wright took over, a move that didn’t please the film’s fans. One Wimpy aficionado tweeted, “The new Rodrick looks like a kid Rodrick would bully,” while others voiced dissatisfaction with the hashtag #NotMyRodrick.
When we first meet the new Heffley family—whimpy kid Greg, brother (and drummer for the metal group Löded Diper) Roderick, Mom (Alicia Silverstone), Dad (Tom Everett Scott) baby Manny (Wyatt and Dylan Walters)—they’re on the way to Corky’s—imagine a bigger, wilder Chuck E. Cheese’s and you get the idea—for dinner. When Manny gets lost inside a chute maze Greg comes to the rescue. His act of heroics backfires when he emerges from the ball pit at the end of the chute with Manny in one hand and a diaper on the other. A video of the event immediately goes viral and Greg becomes famous on the internet as Diaper Hand.
If Greg doesn’t do something soon he’ll be teased relentlessly, more a meme than a man. “If I don’t do something soon I’ll be branded Diaper Hands until I die,” he says. “Maybe longer.” Then inspiration hits. He realizes his hero, videogame guru Mac Digby (Joshua Hoover), will be appearing at a giant convention called Player’s Expo. “If I get a video of me with Mac I’ll be the coolest kid in high school,” he says. “Everyone will forget about Diaper Hands.”
Conveniently the family is planning a road trip to their great-grandmother’s 90th birthday, which, according to the map, is only two inches away from where the expo is taking place. The family heads off, Mom and Dad blissfully unaware of Greg’s plan, on an adventure that will play out like Griswold Lite.
Gently paced, “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul” is like a 1950s family sitcom updated with cell phones, pee, barf and poop jokes. There’s also a pig with the pacifier, some mild action and a slapstick villain named Beardo (Chris Coppola). The underlying messages of family togetherness, respect and the importance of reading “word books” are circa “Leave It To Beaver” era, and so are many of the jokes, but that’s not an entirely bad thing.
There are some genuinely funny moments—many supplied by clueless goofball Roderick—but mostly this is a sweet story fuelled by the familial relationships. It’s a generation gap between the kids who want to stay connected online while the parents went to connect as a family.
“Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul” doesn’t reinvent the family movie wheel. Instead it searches for new ways to freshen up the kind of poop jokes so often found in neo-children’s movies.