Cinematic Releases: Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul (2017) - Reviewed

Arguably the most popular series of kids’ books not about wizards, Jeff Kinney’s eleven-volume Diary of a Wimpy Kid series has been a literary phenomenon. The books are written in the style of the diary (sorry, journal!) of twelve-year-old Greg Heffley as he muses on growing up and trying to fit in. Full of funny, awkward situations and whimsical stick figure illustrations, the Wimpy Kid books have plenty of fun for all ages. The three films in the series so far have been full of PG-rated family fun, faithful to both the letter and the spirit of the books. This week brings the fourth entry in the series, The Long Haul, whose inspiration mostly appears to lie elsewhere.

Based on what is actually the ninth entry in the series, The Long Haul finds the Heffley family—Greg (Jason Drucker), obnoxious older brother Roderick (Charlie Wright), baby brother Manny, and parents Frank and Susan (Tom Everett Scott and Alicia Silverstone)—on a road trip to attend their Meemaw’s 90th birthday party. Mom wants a technology-free trip while the older boys plot to sneak off to a video game convention and dad can’t keep away from his work. Naturally, plenty of hijinks ensue along the way, and important lessons about love and family are expectedly learned. And yet, everything feels a little off this time around.

It has nothing to do with the entirely new cast (the last Wimpy Kid movie did come out way back in 2012, but even original parents Steve Zahn and Rachael Harris have been replaced) or up-to-the-minute plot point modernizations involving memes and YouTube gamers. It’s more about the feel of the movie itself and its place among the Wimpy Kid films. The earlier films, particularly the first, did a clever job weaving the books’ trademark illustrations into the stories, giving them a fun, distinctive look and feel. The Long Haul has mostly animated opening and closing credits, sandwiching what ends up being an otherwise routine kids’ movie. The film feels more like a PG-rated Vacation movie (though, to be fair, it’s still much more entertaining than the 2015 Vacation reboot) than part of the Wimpy Kid series, full of goofy over-the-top stunts but sadly free of the whimsy that defines the series.

I eat babies like you for breakfast

As family film experiences go, The Long Haul is a reasonably entertaining one, not to mention currently the only true major family release (unless you count the still-going-strong Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, which this reviewer and parent to a 10-year-old son does.) Though unlike the latest Marvel epic, The Long Haul is good, mostly clean fun. Those familiar with the series will likely wish for more of what they loved about the original films and books. Despite this, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul is still a moderately entertaining, if a bit basic, family outing.

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-Mike Stec