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.

Stage Review: “Annie”


If you’re looking for a family-friendly musical, you’d be hard-pressed to find one more accessible than “Annie”. An adaptation of the comic strip, “Lil Orphan Annie”, the musical is the story of the 11-year-old girl who finds her way into the home (and the heart) of the billionaire Oliver Warbucks.

The show opens in 1933, during the Great Depression, in the orphanage where Annie and her friends live under the “care” of the sadistic Miss Hannigan. Annie sings her bedmate to sleep with the sweet ballad “Maybe”, as she daydreams about the parents who left her behind with only half a locket and a note to remind her they loved her. Having been abandoned 11 years before, Annie imagines how wonderful her parents and her life could be–if only she weren’t trapped in anonymous squalor. She and her fellow orphans then burst out into one of the most well-known songs from the musical, “It’s the Hard-Knock Life”, describing the roughness of their institutionalized upbringing at the end of Miss Hannigan’s ruler slaps.

As the show continues, Annie does eventually break out–but her freedom is short-lived, and she returns to Miss Hannigan’s control just in time to be spotted by Warbucks’ secretary–who’s on the lookout for an orphan to join the billionaire for the Christmas holidays. And though the taciturn Warbucks didn’t intend on a girl orphan, he warms quickly to the plucky youth and even gets to the point of offering to adopt her. Annie has other plans in mind, though, as she’s still holding out hope that her parents will return for her one day, prompting Warbucks to offer a giant reward to entice her parents to come forward. Miss Hannigan’s crooked brother, Rooster, and his gold-digging girlfriend step forward to pose as Annie’s parents to get at the booty. Of course, hijinx then ensue.

“Annie” is well-known for a host of high-pitched, kid-driven tunes–particularly “It’s the Hard Knock Life” and “Tomorrow”, both of which are amiably performed by the touring cast. (I saw the tour in Boston, at the Boch Center Wang Theatre.) And in general, all of the songs are performed well from a technical standpoint. The kids are predictably adorable, and various members of the cast provide the requisite amount of hamming it up needed to earn laughs.

One area where the show has some room for improvement is in its pacing. The songs feel rushed–in some cases to the point where the spoken dialogue feels like something the cast has to get through as fast as possible so they can speed-sing the rest of the script. The time between songs should contribute to the energy, but at points it feels like the cast is so pressed for time that the ability to demonstrate the emotional depth of their roles is diminished. Erin Fish’s Miss Hannigan is awfully cranky, but she doesn’t come across as particularly committed to the meanness sung about her character, one of several characters who come across as thin and one-dimensional. Gilgamesh Taggett’s Warbucks, in particular, seemed abnormally stiff when delivering most of his dialogue, but he lit up for the songs.

Even so, the songs and music are still as infectious as ever (and I’m sure there were at least a couple of kids in the audience who were inspired to ask later what a “Hooverville” was). The set design was really fantastic–with beautiful detailing and a slick modular design that made the set transitions fairly seamless. And particular moments have stand-out levels of hamminess (be on the lookout for Timothy Allen’s vivacious Harold Ickes) and Bunny Baldwin’s max-adorbs Molly. As one would hope for the show’s lead, Angelina Carballo’s “Annie” was a bundle of energy, and she shone like the top of the Chrysler Building. Or maybe that was just the light from the smiles of the kids walking out clutching their “Annie” dolls and singing the songs.

Three out of four stars

“Annie” is playing at the Boch Center Wang Theatre through May 21, 2017. Tickets are available via the tour’s website and the Boch Center’s website.

Movie Review: “Born in China”

Born in China

I don’t see a lot of movies that make me say “D’awww!” frequently, so Disneynature’s “Born in China” was a refreshing change of pace–a movie that appeals to adults and kids alike. Taking a break from the hyper-urban settings we often see representing China, “Born in China” showcases more remote regions, high in the mountains at 14,000 feet above sea level or along the flat, muddy, icy plains where antelopes dominate the landscape.


A Chinese valley with stunning hills shadowed by white, puffy clouds

A backdrop not to be ignored: the breathtaking wonder of China


The movie follows the stories of several different kinds of animals: antelopes, snow leopards, monkeys, cranes, and–of course–giant pandas. In each storyline (save for the cranes), you learn something about the animals’ psyches or how they relate to each other. The circle of life so brilliantly sung about in a Disney movie set half a world away is put on careful display for the G-rated set. Violence is depicted, but even when fatal it’s shown bloodlessly. Birth is seen, and babies are aplenty; you’ll almost never fail to please the younger crowd when you put baby animals on display. (Or so the theory goes.)


YaYa snuggling with her baby, MeiMei

Giant panda YaYa snuggling with her baby, MeiMei


As the story bounces back and forth between the different “characters”–Dawa, the snow leopard; TaoTao, the golden snub-nosed monkey; YaYa, the giant panda; and the nameless (yet max adorbs) Chiru antelopes–the contrasts in their environments and situations becomes clearer while their similarities emerge. Nature is a harsh place when food becomes scarce, family bonds can be incredibly tight, and there’s nothing like a mommy’s love for her babies (I can attest to that). If there’s a lesson to be learned (since none of the stories discuss any encroachment from environmental hazards and human predators), it is that instinct and love will keep the wheel of life turning as long as life can exist.


Dawa the snow leopard

Dawa, regal mistress of all that she surveys


Each of the character animals faces its own challenge: Dawa struggles with the difficulties that come from being atop the food chain (which isn’t always all that it’s cracked up to be), TaoTao turns “bad boy” when he feels ignored following the birth of his baby sister, YaYa quite literally can’t bring herself to let go of her baby, MeiMei, and the Chiru females have long roads to travel as they bring forth the next generation of antelopes.


TaoTao the monkey's family huddling together for warmth

TaoTao’s family huddles up to protect against winter’s bite


You see each animal in a seasonal vignette; the movie begins in Spring and progresses through to the Fall of the next year. Each of these mini-worlds contains some measure of danger and potential for heartache, but the filmmakers do their level best to keep the emotional damage to a minimum. The cranes are the sole exception to the build of a specific animal’s storyline; in their case, they serve as a reminder of their mystical role in Chinese folklore as carriers of spirits. When they are seen, it is the turning of a page, the inevitable cranking of that wheel. One life ends, another begins. And so it goes, endlessly.


Cranes taking flight

As cranes take flight, so do the souls of those who’ve recently departed


Could the movie have been trimmed here and there, or could the cranes have been more than a metaphor? Sure. But all in all, it was a cute film and it showed an incredibly gorgeous side of China I never knew existed. Narrator John Krakowski (“The Office”) adds equal parts gravitas and humor in his rendering of the stories. His comedic chops and timing are on full display when the male chiru are parading around in all of their glory, skills that are well appreciated by the adults in the crowd.

Is “Born in China” good for kids? ABSOLUTELY. As a G-rated film, it’s baked just for them, although the stunning visuals (including breathtaking time lapse imagery) are going to thrill the adults. It seemed a shame that we screened the film on a regular movie screen; it begged to be on a tall IMAX screen, where the flyovers and mountaintop views can really make your heart skip a beat. Stay for the end credits: there’s some really great behind-the-scenes footage, plus some more animals-being-adorable shots that are totally worth sticking around to see.

Another enticement to see “Born in China”, whose release date is timed to coincide with Earth Day Weekend: for every ticket sold for an opening week showing (April 21-27), Disneynature will make a donation to the World Wildlife Fund.

If that’s not enough to get you turning the wheel of your car towards the movie theatre, I’m just not sure what will.

Three and a half out of four stars.

“Born in China” opens in theatres on Friday, April 21, 2017. It’s rated G.