Movie Review: “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul”

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul

For the first time in a REALLY long time, I had one of the kiddos along for the screening, so this review is in a slightly different format–to give the perspective of the target demographic: a 10-year-old.

“Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul” is another chapter in the life of Greg Heffley (Jason Drucker), a much beleaguered twelve-year-old boy who’s alternately tormented by his overly well-meaning parents and his insufferable, annoying older brother, Rodrick (Charlie Wright). This time, the Heffleys are hitting the road to go halfway across the country for the 90th birthday party of Greg’s great-grandmother, Meemaw (Mimi Gould).

The movie opens with the entire family (plus one of Greg’s friends) having a family-friendly dinner at a local restaurant that seems like a cross between a Chuck E. Cheese and a series of unmanaged troughs; this restaurant seems to be all at once the best friend and worst nightmare for the parents of young children. While hunting for his little brother in the overflowing ball pit/swimming pool, Greg manages to get a loose diaper stuck on his hand. The Power of the Internet soon takes over: he’s memed in a heartbeat as “Diaper Hands” and what little rep he has is shredded in the process.

The timing of this trip to Meemaw’s couldn’t be better. Greg needs some time away–and his mother, Susan (Alicia Silverstone), sees this as a perfect time for the family to reconnect offline. Naturally, she doesn’t know initially about how her husband, Frank (Tom Everett Scott), is sneaking in work while on the trip, nor does she know about Greg and Rodrick redirecting the GPS so they can have a shot at making it to a gamer convention that’s not quite en route. Her innocence at virtually every turn is rather incredible and it bespeaks the story’s origins as an elementary-school staple; mom always has your best interests at heart, and she’s way more innocent about how the world works than you think. (Reality is never this uncomplicated, but I digress.)

What follows the family’s departure from the homestead is a series of gaffes, missteps, and mishaps that alternate between funny and cringe-worthy. Even with some laughs, this movie may make parents reconsider taking a lengthy car trip with the kiddos. Speaking of kiddos, I have a ten-year old with thoughts of her own; my interview and her (only very lightly edited) responses can be found below–as well as both of our ratings.

Me: You’ve read “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul”. How do you think this stacks up versus the book: better, worse, about the same…or just different? Remember that not every movie made from a book has to be just like the book; it can be enjoyable on its own, even if it changes a few things here or there.

DD: It is definitely different from the book, with a few changes near the end (I won’t give that away). The story is similar to the movie, but overall the book is a little bit more exciting than the movie. If I had to choose between watching the movie again or reading the book, I would choose reading the book because it’s more interesting than the movie.

Me: Was there anything particularly good or bad about the movie, such as any scenes that made a particular impression on you? Remember not to give away any spoilers about the ending!


The only bad parts were parts where it was unrealistic:

  1. The Agricultural Fair. I have been to several Agricultural fairs before, and they were total opposites of this. Normally, they are so crowded you can barely get through, it takes you half an hour to get food, and the rides are so full you only get to go on a few. Not this one; it was WAY TOO open. The booths were miles away from each other, and there was barely anyone there! The lines for the rides were so short, you could probably go to every ride in under an hour.
  2. The Motel that they stayed at during the trip was overly gross. It was so UGLY and DISGUSTING. You could see small tiny holes in the bed that were burned. In the bathroom, there were cockroaches all over the floor, and the pool HAD NO WATER IN IT! The only things that were actually IN the pool were mice (or rats) and old wrappers/bags of food.

The good parts were:

  1. The scenery. It was just gorgeous!
  2. The pig. It was SO CUTE! The only thing I didn’t like is that in the book, the pig is in a little bit more than half of it, and in the movie, he/she’s in a small number of scenes.

Me: Did you think the actors did a good job portraying their characters? Any standouts–good or bad?

DD: I think most of the actors did a good job at portraying their character appropriately and to the age they are set to be. The only mishap I had was with Rodrick. He is supposed to be 16-17 and is acting like he is 19-20. Also, he is supposed to be a crazy teen, but seems more like a teen that is loud and obnoxious.

Me: Is “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul” appropriate for kids? If so, what age would be the youngest you’d recommend?

DD: I would recommend this movie for kids age 7+. I wouldn’t go any lower, due to a couple of scenes and some language (there are no swears, but even so), I think that it would be a little much for them. I think that kids like me, ages 9+, might like/dislike it based on the books (I have read them all).

Me: On a scale of zero to four stars, where zero is “I NEVER WANT TO SEE THIS AGAIN”, and four is “THIS WAS THE BEST MOVIE EVER AND EVERYONE SHOULD GO SEE IT” (and where half stars are allowed), how would you rate “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul”?

DD: I would rate this three stars out of four. I don’t like it as much as I liked the book (like I explained in the first question). It was entertaining, but even so, there were some parts that didn’t make me go “WOW!” or “COOL!”; they just made me go, “So…what does that have to do with the story?!” This is just my opinion, but people are different, so you might like it better or worse than I did (depending on your taste of movies).

Me: For my part, I’d rate it two stars out of four–but I’m not the target audience; I’m just the money and the ride. Thanks for your help, kiddo!

“Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul” opens in theatres on Friday, May 19, 2017. It is rated PG for some rude humor.

Movie Review: “Pete’s Dragon”

Pete's Dragon movie poster

“That’s the thing about adventures: you’ve got to be brave.” So begins Disney’s latest outing, an overhaul of the 1977 partially animated film of the same name. This time out, Pete (Oakes Fegley) is a young boy orphaned at age five by what we’ll term “Bambi’s Unintentional Revenge”. He dashes off into the woods and immediately lands in danger–but he’s saved by a furry beastie he names “Elliot” after the “Elliot Gets Lost” storybook he was reading in the car at the time tragedy struck.

Fast forward six years, to the nearby logging town of Millhaven. There’s a legend about “The Millhaven Dragon”, kept alive by the tall tales of a local who claims he squared off against it–Meacham (amiably played by Robert Redford). Early on, he holds court over a pre-tween audience, cautioning them: “Just because you don’t see something doesn’t mean it’s not there.” Of course, it’s easy to say that when you’re the one telling the stories.

Meacham (Redford)

Meacham (Redford), at home in the woods

The Millhaven Dragon, naturally, refers to Elliot–who has cared for Pete all this time. The now 11-year-old Pete is fairly feral and runs, jumps, dives off cliffs, and plays with Elliot with total abandon. It’s been six years of no responsibility and all play with his rather large and furry bestie. During a game of hide-and-seek Elliot shows off his ability to camouflage to the point where he seems to disappear, but it’s quite certain that he definitely exists. This friend is absolutely not imaginary.

Pete (Fegley) and Elliot

Boy meets dragon: Pete (Fegley) and Elliot

On a walk deep in the woods to track owls, Meacham’s daughter–Park Ranger Grace (Bryce Dallas Howard)–stumbles upon Pete. With the help of some nearby loggers, including her fiancé Jack (Wes Bentley) and his taciturn brother, Gavin (Karl Urban), Grace confronts the mysterious boy. Jack’s daughter Natalie (Oona Laurence) attempts to befriend Pete in the woods, but the confused boy–who later wakes in a hospital post-capture–is unsure of his surroundings and flees. Thus begins the triple chase theme that runs through the rest of the movie: Grace chasing Pete as the son she doesn’t have, Pete chasing his Elliot to regain his freedom, and Gavin chasing Elliot in search of fame and fortune. Even as Grace and Jack start to ponder the idea of Pete being more than just a transient playmate for Natalie, Pete’s eyes are always trained towards his home in the woods with his furry friend. Elliot never gives up hope that he may see Pete, but Gavin’s malicious advances endanger everyone, including Elliott, Pete, and the trio of Grace, Jack, and Natalie.

Grace (Howard), Pete (Fegley), Jack (Bentley), and Natalie (Laurence)

It’s a (pseudo) family affair: Grace (Howard), Pete (Fegley), Jack (Bentley), and Natalie (Laurence)

This movie does well at bringing Elliot to life, even if the concept of a furry dragon is still a bit confusing. He’s a playful, heroic figure who genuinely loves Pete from the first moment they meet–a boy’s best friend. Pete, touchingly animated by Fegley’s soulful eyes, is full of exuberance and an inner luminosity borne out of a carefree youth spent heavily as a dragon’s wingman. Laurence’s Natalie is endearing, the conscience of the film and the moral compass guiding those around her.

Natalie (Laurence) is introduced to Elliot by Pete (Fegley)

Girl Meets Dragon: Natalie (Laurence) is introduced to Elliot by Pete (Fegley)

Sadly, these three are really the only fully developed characters in the film. Redford’s Meacham serves the general role of “Elder Statesman With A Heart of Gold”, Howard’s Grace is “The Park Ranger With A Heart Of Gold”, Bentley’s Jack is “The Logger And Engaged Single Dad With A Heart Of Gold”, and Urban’s Gavin is “One-Dimensional Bad Guy Logger”. That’s not to say that they acquit themselves poorly; on the contrary, both Meacham and Grace are sweet characters that you want to root for time and again. Jack is there mostly to keep the scenery from flying away, but Bentley does as best as he can with a role that basically just locks him into “generic good guy” mode.

Jack (Bentley) and Gavin (Urban)

Logger bros Jack (Bentley) and Gavin (Urban)

Of all of the characters, I take exception only to Gavin; Karl Urban is given almost nothing from a script perspective. An accomplished actor who can play it straight (“The Two Towers” and “Return of the King”), he can also chew scenery with the best of them (“The Chronicles of Riddick” and any of the new “Star Trek” reboots). Instead, he’s relegated to a thinly drawn role–made an antagonist because the film needed one, not because there was particularly any need for his character to be an antagonist. His motivations are non-existent until he says them out loud, by which time you wonder, “Really? That’s where they’re going with this?”

Natalie (Laurence), Grace (Howard), and Jack (Bentley)

The family unit: Natalie (Laurence), Grace (Howard), and Jack (Bentley)

Is “Pete’s Dragon” okay for kids? Oh sure. There are a couple of scary scenes, including one with wolves at the beginning, but I wouldn’t hesitate to take my newly-minted seven-year-old to the movie with me. The computer graphics are okay enough–Elliot’s fur is rendered well, but the fuzzy dragon never looks like he’s as natural as his surroundings. On the other hand, the fur likely dials down the scare factor that might’ve been higher if he sported traditional dragon scales. Kids will love Elliot in all his fuzzy glory, and boys will long to run wild through the woods with so marvelous a companion. Girls will get a kick out of Natalie–the Hermione Granger of this film–strong, smart, and unafraid. And really, in a family-friendly movie like “Pete’s Dragon”, the adults aren’t the draw anyway, so positive images of the “kids” (of all shapes and sizes) is really all that matters.

2-1/2 out of 4 stars

“Pete’s Dragon” opens nationwide on August 12, 2016. This movie is rated PG for action, peril, and brief language.

Movie Review: “Zootopia”

ZootopiaIn the latest outing from Disney Animation, “Zootopia”, we see up close what happens when someone gets the bright idea to put animals of all stripes (and fur) together with some of the most beloved movie tropes and characters. The cast of anthropomorphized animals is ably led by the charmingly plucky Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin of “Once Upon a Time”). Though a tiny bunny, Hopps has always aspired to be a police officer in Zootopia, so she can protect the weaker from those who would prey on them. The predator/prey dichotomy is a constant theme in the movie–an easy ploy with this particular set of characters, since humans don’t always have such obvious predator or prey markers.

Though she’s small, Hopps finds a way to excel at the Police Academy, and she graduates at the head of her class–winning a coveted spot on the police force responsible for the City Center. And so, off she goes to explore the incredible place where “predator and prey live in harmony”, a city containing twelve unique ecosystems ranging from an urban cityscape to a frozen landscape.


Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) graduates from the Police Academy

Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) graduates from the Police Academy


Upon arrival at the police station, Hopps gets a harsh lesson in reality when she’s given meter maid duty by her brutish buffalo police chief, Bogo (played by the only man who could make a buffalo sexy, Idris Elba of “Luther” and the “Thor” movies). There is a plethora of missing persons cases, but Bogo is insistent that Hopps spend her days distributing tickets instead of doing detective work. Hopps puts on a brave face, but she soon lets her instincts take her off task.


Chief Bogo (Idris Elba)

Chief Bogo (Idris Elba)


While out and about, Hopps runs into Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman of “Arrested Development”), a con-artist of a fox whom she manages to blackmail into helping her try to solve one of the missing persons cases. Chief Bogo gave Hopps 48 hours to crack the case, and she intends to use any means at her disposal to do so. Despite his chafing at the conscription, Wilde ends up befriending Hopps and assisting her ably with her search for the missing Mr. Otterton. Truly, for all of the wonderful little jokes sprinkled liberally throughout, this really is both a buddy-comedy and a mystery–a multi-layered view into what it means to be predator or prey. (Keep an ear out for when Disney Animation favorite Alan Tudyk delivers a “Frozen”-related joke. He’s clearly to Disney Animation what “Cheers” actor John Ratzenberger is to Pixar.)


Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) confronting Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman)

Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) confronting Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman)


“Zootopia” has a lot of clever humor, sometimes subtle and other times far more overt. Of course, there are the sly in-jokes (like the icon of the carrot with a bite taken out of it that adorns the back of the characters’ smartphones) and the more overt plays for the adult crowd–such as “Mr. Big”, the mini-mafioso ably voiced by the man of a thousand tongues, Maurice LaMarche (“Animaniacs” and 1001 other things), channeling Marlon Brando in the most delightful way. It’s through these bits that “Zootopia” plays to audiences across the generations, not necessarily being more of a kid or a grown-up movie. In fact, this is actually the one area where I found it almost missed the mark: it may not be quite enough to get the adults lining up for tons of repeated viewings, but the jokes may go over kids’ heads (especially the younger set). Perhaps that’s what happens when you have seven story writers.


Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) faces off against Mr. Big (Maurice LaMarche)

Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) faces off against Mr. Big (Maurice LaMarche)


Is “Zootopia” okay for kids? Oh sure. It clocks in at a PG rating, mostly for some rude humor here and there, although there are a handful of scary scenes. Thankfully, this one wasn’t nearly so over-the-top as “Cars 2” when it comes to the violence, but it does have a few spots where those under 7 or 8 may be looking for a parent’s hand to hold.





As far as how to see this film, I would definitely recommend seeing it in 3D if possible. The lush landscapes are really quite well-rendered, and the Disney Animation folks keep upping their game on texture. The fur, in particular, was just so very well done that though it was obvious these weren’t real animals, they still looked like you could reach through the screen and touch real fur on their backs. Obviously Disney felt the animators deserved some love, too, since the closing credits (headlined by a performance from “Gazelle”, played by the songstress Shakira) spend most of their time giving the top billing to effects folks and animators. These folks weren’t going to get relegated to the end of the credits line, it seems, and that was one in a long series of good calls by the folks at Disney Animation here.


3-1/2 out of 4 stars

“Zootopia” opens nationwide on March 4, 2016. This movie is rated PG for some thematic elements, rude humor and action.