Since last year’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid was such a pleasant surprise, there was every opportunity for its sequel, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules, to be a major letdown. Luckily—aside from a bit of a flat climax—the film lives up to its predecessor’s modest aims of likable family entertainment, something that’s too often in short supply.
What makes these Wimpy Kid movies so much more than the vast majority of what’s pawned-off on kids these days is that it never assumes its audience is stupid—and that goes for both kids and adults. There’s no corny pandering to adults and no talking down to the kids. Sure, the film has its fair share of gross-out gags, but they’re minor and never outstay their welcome. On its own terms, the film is sufficiently quirky entertainment—even a bit on the absurd side—and it never feels the need to dumb itself down just because its intended audience is children.
Replacing director Thor Freudenthal with David Bowers (Astro Boy)—a veteran of Wallace and Gromit creators Aardman Animations, maker of some of the better family entertainment that’s come out over the past few years—is a near-perfect fit, as no one seems to understand odd, screwy family entertainment better. Bowers diverges little from the series as far as style, meaning there’s little obvious difference between this movie and its originator, and Rodrick Rules feels very much like a continuation of the first film. But what he does understand is how important the tone and pace of something this playfully ridiculous should be.
This time around, we get the self-centered, image-conscious Greg Heffley (Zachary Gordon) entering seventh grade and generally finding that nothing goes right for him. This is the way the movie basically moves, from one embarrassing comic mishap to the next, mostly involving his relationship with his torturous older brother Rodrick (Devon Bostick) and his doting mother (Rachael Harris). Even buried beneath all the goofball silliness the movie trades in, Rodrick Rules—much like its previous installment—is about as honest and realistic a portrait of an American family as you’re going to get. And that relatability is what makes the movie work. The movie is sufficiently weird—hearkening back to oddball ‘90s Nickelodeon stuff like The Adventures of Pete and Pete—but there’s nevertheless a human quality to it all, something that’s strangely all-too-often forgotten in the world of family film. Rated PG for some mild rude humor and mischief.