Diary of a Wimpy Mom

A promise is a promise, or so my kids said, even if I really didn’t want to take them to see “Diary of a Wimpy Kid 2: Rodrick Rules” the week it opened in theaters. My kids have been reading the Wimpy Kid graphic novels for some time, so I was familiar with the aesthetic, but hadn’t really jumped into the phenomenon myself. However, they had earned a night at the theater, so off we went.

I usually love taking my kids to the theater, and despite a few intolerable duds over the years (“Alvin & the Chipmunks, the Squeakquel” and “Barnyard” come to mind, since both are children’s movies I found offensive, repulsive and poorly animated.), I nearly always enjoy the experience. Heck, I even spring for three dimensional showings sometimes; last summer, “Despicable Me”, “Toy Story 3″ and “MegaMind” were all lots of fun with those 3D glasses on.

But for some reason, I was dreading “Diary of a Wimpy Kid 2″. Maybe because I hadn’t seen the first movie. Maybe because I thought I knew the premise of the book series (losers losing at life, right?) and didn’t anticipate more than a ‘meh’ in response. Maybe because I would have rather been seeing “The King’s Speech” that night. Who knows? I just remember that the walk from the parking lot to the ticket booth was extra long. I even seriously considered bringing my iPod into the theater, just in case.

However, if I told you that after watching DWK2, I then bought a copy of the first “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” movie on DVD, plus the Rodrick Rules book, which had been missing from our collection, plus the new Do-It-Yourself Diary of a Wimpy Kid book, in hardback, no less!, plus the set of plastic Wimpy Kid figurines for my son’s birthday, would I be able to convey just how much I ended up loving the film and the series?

I mean, I really, really dug this sequel, even without seeing the prequel. I had a unqualified good time. I didn’t slip out of the theater even once to buy Milk Duds or peruse ‘coming attractions’ posters. I even made the kids stick around through the entire closing credits sequence. We were the last ones in the theater I liked it so much!

Just why did I end up having such a good time when I held such low expectations going in?

In a word – tone. Tone is the attitude of the filmmaker or actors toward the subject matter, the audience, other characters, the story, and so forth. And I guess I was expecting a snarky kind of tone. I was expecting lots of meanspiritedness, prank pulling, unkind words and so forth.

The interesting thing is that the film is actually full of the things on that list (but …). Rodrick is mean to Greg, he disobeys his parents, other kids tease Greg and Rowley. The beautiful Holly mistakes Greg for Fregley, the pariah of this junior high school group, thereby shaming Greg deeply. There were plenty of what we call ‘bathroom’ jokes, plus lots of falling, tripping and bad driving. The boys eat pizza out of a trash can. Greg runs around an assisted living center in his underpants.

But the tone of the movie – its underlying attitude – was sweet and even affectionate, at least by my tastes. It was, dare I say it?, wholesome.

The brothers fight plenty, yes, but end up growing closer.

The kids are disobedient, for sure, but receive consequences.

The parents are goofy, but not ridiculous – just sweetly clueless and appropriately firm.

The Heffley family does stuff together. They attend school functions and talent shows together. They visit ol’ Grandpa. Even when Rodrick receives a devastating punishment (I won’t spoil it for the rest of the parents reading this), he still goes on the planned family outing. He’s frowning, but he’s there (and he’s wearing pretty cool emo eyeliner).

I also thought the movie was age appropriate in a way that the “Shrek” creators never quite managed. Two examples:

Early on in the movie, during a sleepover about to go awry, Rowley and Greg are watching “The Foot”, a bootleg horror flick they nab from Rodrick’s room. This (faux) fim within a film is meant to scare the boys to bits, enough so that Rowley calls his dad in the middle of the night for a ride home. And “The Foot” does scare the boys. It scared my kids. But it was scary in a safe way. It was scary in a funny way too. The filmmakers could have easily put in a genuinely scary or violent scene, but instead, we see an obviously rubber foot hopping down a dimly lit hall. It was enough, but not too much.

Later in the movie, Rodrick throws a wild teenage party because his parents aren’t home. He tries to lock Greg in the basement, but hijinks ensue and Greg manages to attend the party. Again, the filmmakers could have made the party scene subversive, edgy or adult-appropriate. Instead, we see surly teenagers grinding pretzels into the carpet, chugging two liters of soda pop and posing under cheerful Christmas lights. I appreciated that the party scene didn’t show any drinking, vomiting or malicious behavior. There will be plenty of years for the watching of “Risky Business” et al. For now, I want my elementary school-aged kids to watch elementary school-aged movies.

I was also impressed with the way “Diary of a Wimpy Kid 2″ incorporated its graphic source material into the live action movie – the visual touches are clever and instructive for kid viewers who have read every book in the series multiple times. And as a huge fan of “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”, I really dig it when moviemakers can seamlessly integrate text features into film. The DWK2 team did just that.

So two stick-figure thumbs up?

Let me put it this way: this weekend, my kids are away visiting grandparents, but tonight, I’m going to make a big bowl of buttery popcorn and watch the first “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” by myself.

Has a “kid” movie ever surprised you this way?

What are some of your kids’ favorites movies that you’ve also enjoyed?

Diary of a Wimpy Kid 2 trailer