With three films in three years, the Diary of a Wimpy Kid film adaptations are almost expecting waning popularity. Why else do you crank them out so fast? Zachary Gordon is growing out of the phase where he would be appropriate for the role, but he can still handle the workload given its passive nature.
For Dog Days, it is summer. School’s out, and Greg Heffley (Gordon) is set on playing video games. His eye becomes smitten with a classmate Holly (Peyton List), and via a series of growing lies, continually finds a way to remain close to her. Video games are left at home.
Dog Days is little more than a series of misadventures surrounding Greg. The side characters have all but been eliminated to background roles to keep Greg in focus (you’ll forget he even has a younger brother). He has purpose: Greg is trying to connect with his Civil War re-enacting father (Steve Zahn, glorious as always), find the girl, maintain friendship, and even grow up a little.
Between it all, the family bonds, although Greg’s radical ideas make the parents consider placing him in a hardened SPAG Union school; those kids don’t play video games. It becomes too easy to pick apart the lack of progression overall, Dog Days closing itself off just before the credits. That’s not so much growth as it is finding a reasonable ending when the 90-minute run time is reached.
Despite a dip in quality from the original, Diary of a Wimpy Kid has never lost what makes it work: Kids. From campsites, to awkward socializing, bad ideas, and misunderstandings, the series has its heart in the right place. Greg is a strong centerpiece, and his world captures the average viewpoint of someone his age. Despite cartoonish flourishes, we’ve all been there.
Dog Days isn’t a revolution, but it does cover up some of the errors of Rodrick Rules. While Steve Zahn and Rachel Harris are given rich screen time as parents, they’re more of a cog in Greg’s happenings. They lack the feeling of being extra, and become central to the loosely threaded story that keeps this brisk pace motivated. It also becomes fun to see friend Rowley (Robert Capron) expanded and even explained in a way via his firm parents. Even if Wimpy Kid is going to flesh itself out at a glacial pace to make room for added kid-heavy jabs, it remains easy to handle, relaxingly fresh comedy.
Like the predecessor, Dog Days is bound by a thick, unmistakable grain structure. The weight of it adds texture without being intrusive. With one exception, grain holds to the background while the AVC encode works overtime to keep it natural. The fight is a success on the part of compression.
Brightly lit with a propensity for vivid color, flesh tones will take on a little glaze that doesn’t offend, but certainly helps bolster the intensity. From primaries at a carnival (which are overflowing) to basic interiors, every shot is boosted by a generous palette choice. Dog Days feels like summer, with outstanding warmth. Even the water at the various public pools has a slight tint to it, and not for any questionable purpose.
Through it all, the sharpness remains the key motivator. Focus is always firm and that allows generous helpings of definition to shine. Facial detail is spectacular, and exteriors of homes are quite breathtaking. The resolution resolves plants, shingles, bricks, and more. No grain structure will prevent that.
The series hallmark concerning animation pulled from the book’s drawings is presented perfectly, with sharp lines to edge out the simplicity. A lot can go wrong if improperly handled, even with something that seems easy. Used less than before, the crude cartoon lines look great, and there is no loss of definition when the transition to live action is made.
Talk about a downer. Dog Days doesn’t even seem to be using the surround channels, even for music. This is as dead as modern 5.1 mixes come, and that is with opportunities. Chances to spread Greg’s awkward positioning amongst hundreds of kids in a public pool is lost as the center channel takes over. The fronts merely handle the panicked music. This situation (or non-situation really) replays itself at the carnival.
Of all the sequences that should come to life, it’s a ride at the above carnival. The kids are rotated around furiously without any wind effect or separation. It takes a fun sequence of terror and kills it aurally.
None of that even considers the disappointment of the outdoors,with no noticeable ambiance to set the mood. Interiors with screaming kids are packed up into the center, and a live party concert that serves as the finale is as dead as they come. Sure, dialogue is fine, but to call this a 5.1 mix is almost misleading.
Returning director David Bowers offers thoughts over a commentary, chatter that optionally runs into 10 deleted scenes for 10-minutes. Class Clown is an animated short that makes you wonder why this style hasn’t been translated for a TV series. Wimpy Empire is an FX special/promo that tracks the series from its book origins to this film, followed by a gag reel has a few winners. Trailers and BD-Live support round it up.
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