Diary of a Wimpy Kid works with perspective. It’s for kids, sure. They will relate to many of the scenarios depicted, and laugh with the childish antics that make up anyone’s younger years.
As a look back though, it works even better. Remembering those awkward lunchroom dynamics, how incredibly important seat selection in the classroom was, and dealing with “lack of hygiene” kid are all things we go through as we move deeper into the school system. It’s easier to see yourself in Greg Heffley’s (Zachary Gordon) position with some space as opposed to being alongside him.
First-time director Thor Freudenthal doesn’t do much for the film, giving it more of a made-for-TV feel, but the core still works regardless. The situations become increasingly critical in the mind of a child, from being chased by neighborhood bullies to the closest thing the film has to a central narrative, the break-up of childhood friends.
It all drives this one year of school from Greg’s perspective, all based on Jeff Kinney’s book. Greg swears he’ll be the popular kid this year, even going so far as keep track of his non-increasing social stature on a chart. As things continually spiral downhill, he ends up even below Fregley (Grayson Russell), the smelly kid. There is no recovery.
Greg keeps trying though, signing up for the school play and even trying wrestling, believing firmly he’ll be donning the tights and grappling the Undertaker. Then again, who didn’t think joining the wrestling team would lead to epic Wrestlemania matches against Hulk Hogan at first?
Wimpy Kid gets all of those small details right, and what it lacks technically, it makes up for in broad nostalgia and family-friendly content. It’s as awkward to watch as it is funny, exactly what it is aiming for.
Wimpy Kid comes from Fox in a bright, vibrant AVC encode. The transfer immediately makes it’s deep, warm color palette filled with rich flesh tones and vibrant primaries a priority. Aided by initially bold black levels, even crushing shadow detail slightly, they give the image pop.
Meager grain levels remain resolved with only a few exceptions. Certain objects within the frame tend to spawn some chroma noise (the bathtub at 1:05:26), although typically it’s either a small section of the screen or a quick edit. Intentionally diffused lighting makes windows or other bright objects bloom whenever they are on screen throughout the film, rarely diluting detail or sharpness.
The transfer provides some rather exquisite establishing photography, from the long shot of a house at 33:35, back to the school at 8:20. Even interiors shine, the kitchen at 54:00 producing wonderful depth, all aided by the contrast and black levels. One of the key issues remains the latter, which at times fail to produce the same dimensionality from frame to frame. Blacks don’t carry the stability they need to.
Facial texture and the like is generally limited, but then again the film is mostly dealing with kids. Most of what produces the high-fidelity detail is clothing, Greg’s shirt at 1:25:04 being a great example. Shots in the snow as the kids play outside, the snowman at 48:40 great, resolves the flakes and the glistening sun reflection. Sharpness is consistent, more so than the black levels, for better or worse during a grain spike at 1:00:05. A film shown on a projector in the classroom at 33:00 was shot digitally with added grain, and looks the part, although this is obviously intent.
Fox’s DTS-HD effort provides distinct, clear audio, all balanced beautifully. Dialogue is firmly planted in the center channel; no instances of stereo separation to speak of. That’s fine as it remains audible and clean, as any modern film dialogue should present itself.
Surrounds kick in on a needed basis, the loud school halls filled with laughter as class begins or lets out. The effect is faint, but there. A nicely mixed sequence in the woods, around 44-minutes, produces owl calls and spinning voices to enhance the spooky nature of the sequence. Placement in the surrounds, then into the fronts, is superb. A few scenes with heavy rain, the first at 54:18, produces a nicely immersive effect with all of the splashing.
The highlight is a school dance at 1:15:50, as the Beastie Boys’ “Intergalactic” blares over the speakers, creating a full, rich environment within the gym. The heavy low-end to the song catches the sub effectively, the only time the LFE is engaged.
This review is based on a rental exclusive which offers no extras since Fox failed to supply a review copy. Should a retail edition be obtained, this review will be updated.