The Wimpy-verse is expanding again thanks to the dutiful animated feature “Diary of a Wimpy Kid.” The characters created by Jeff Kinney in his best-selling books here enter middle school, a potential minefield of embarrassments and threats to friendship. Incarnated in gently bulbous, digitally smooth form, our hero, Greg Heffley (voiced by Brady Noon), runs through a good-natured medley of misadventures over 56 episodic minutes.
Greg enjoys the companionship of his cylindrical buddy, Rowley (Ethan William Childress), but is driven by an abject fear of ostracism. Together they weather the dread of putting a foot wrong under the unfamiliar rules of middle school, whether that means saying “play” when you mean “hang out” or touching a fetid piece of cheese in the playground (a cherished conceit in the series). But the truest worry that Kinney’s characters explore is how friends survive transitions, and clash (as they do over being the cartoonist for the school paper).
Greg — a stick-figure with Jughead-esque askew smile and a Charlie Brown wisp of hair — can be weak-willed and secretly nasty, especially toward Rowley. But the movie’s tone remains wholesome, unless you count the teenage bullies. These uncool degenerates are prone to reckless driving and, oddly, listening to Judas Priest’s 1980 hit “Breaking the Law.” Greg’s teen sib is a pill, too, especially next to his sage mom, antsy dad and supercute moppet kid-brother.
The movie, directed by Swinton O. Scott III, plays like an extended series pilot, built out of largely interchangeable episodes. But its vacuum-packed, impersonal animation does bear one benefit: no live child actors onscreen who can age out of their roles.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid
Rated PG. Running time: 56 minutes. Watch on Disney+.