We’ve been able to cover a number of standalone films in the When Can I Watch column, from Lucas and Gremlins to Terry Gilliam’s brilliant The Time Bandits. But rarely are we able to revisit a franchise that is growing at the same rate as our own kids, speaking to them at a young age and then tracking with their progression to address topics that entertain and enlighten years later.
That’s what I noticed when I took our 8-year-old, P.J., to the latest Diary of a Wimpy Kid
movie, Dog Days
. We wrote about the initial Wimpy Kid movies
last year, touching on all of the reasons why it’s a valuable and family-friendly film franchise. But with Dog Days
, the cast (particularly star Zachary Gordon
) is getting older. So, however, is my own son. Would the subject matter mature, as well? And would my kid remain interested in what the series has to say?
Let’s see. Grab your Jeff Kinney bookmark, throw the latest Loded Diper CD on the stereo, and help me figure out when you can watch Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days with your kids.
Now that the Wimpy Kid movies have settled into a groove, the producers have drifted away from the Red Flags that existed in the first two movies. The language is tame. The humor – while “bathroomy” at times – isn’t vulgar. Middle-schooler Greg Heffley (Gordon) doesn’t wrestle with the social hierarchy that defines elementary school living anymore. While Greg isn’t cool (he’ll never be cool), he isn’t bullied because of his diminutive size or his abnormal fascination with adolescent hobbies anymore.
In short, the Wimpy Kid movies have allowed Greg to grow up.
But as the character – and the film series – matures, Dog Days tackles a few other personal red flags that will be worth talking about with your kids if and when you check this movie out.
There's a lengthy subplot involving Greg lying to his parents (Steve Zahn, Rachael Harris) about having a summer job at a prestigious country club. Part of that stems from Zahn's wanting to connect with his son when he realizes they have nothing in common. Instead of embarking on fishing or camping trips with dear old dad, though, Greg lies… and goes to great lengths to extend the lie.
There’s another notable scene where Greg manages to corrupt sweet-and-innocent best friend Rowley (Robert Capron) during a trip to an amusement park. The pair is supposed to be home after an hour, and avoid scary rides. They disobey both of those mandates.
Dog Days director David Bowers knows how to handle both situations, however. When Rowley’s parents catch him and Greg lying at the theme park, they hang their heads in shame and walk away. Greg’s relieved that they got off easy, simply because the parents didn’t yell. But Rowley recognizes the look of disappointment on his mom and dad's faces, and that stings even worse.
The scene mirrors itself when Zahn's character eventually finds out about the fake job at the prestigious country club. "I'm not mad. I’m disappointed," he tells Greg. The Wimpy Kid series regularly carves important life lessons out of its awkward humor. Dog Days is no different.
"Important life lessons?" That sounds like it belongs in the Green Lights section. And it does, so here it is.
Because the cast (and crew) is in a groove – having worked on three Wimpy Kid movies, to date – they are able to expand on these characters and better explore what makes them tick. The chemistry between Gordon and Devon Bostick (playing manipulative older sibling Rodrick Heffley) grows stronger with each passing film. The pair has gone from rivals to partners-in-crime… similar to most of the siblings who will be sitting in the theater watching the latest Wimpy Kid movie unfold.
Dog Days also places greater emphasis on Greg’s strained relationship with his dad (Zahn), and the latter's efforts to repair what's broken before it's too late to fix. This isn't handled in a somber manner. It's still a Wimpy Kid movie, with all the physical comedy and wholesome humiliation fans demand. But as I mentioned, in an effort to mature the series – and possibly make better use of an older, wiser Gordon – Dog Days isn’t afraid to go after heavier lessons aimed at kids as they grow. Greg seeks to avoid a military prep school that his dad seemingly favors. The boys defend their father when he's trash-talked by a rival scout leader. And Greg secures an important gig for Rodrick’s rock band, Loded Diper.
Ah, yes. The gig. And an important subplot in Dog Days that's a direct result of the series (and its audience) growing up. Let's call it, "Chasing girls." Greg spends most of Dog Days trying to get close to sweet and pretty Holly Hills (Peyton List). Rodrick wants to get to know Holly's stuck-up sister, Heather (Melissa Roxburgh).
And my 8-year-old son took it all in stride.
Mind you, this is the same kid who groaned when Peter Parker kissed Gwen Stacy in The Amazing Spider-Man. But the sight of Greg holding hands with Holly didn’t crate a single ripple. I’ve often wondered when he’d stop being bothered by on-screen romance. Perhaps those Dog Days are over.
Yes, the Wimpy Kid movies are attempting to mature, but they’re still tailor-made for kids 6 and up. The humor is relatively juvenile. The life lessons are simplified for all ages. There’s mischief (and a lot of lying), but so long as parents initiate a dialogue about what's happening in the film, young kids can handle Dog Days, and get more than a few huge belly laughs out of it.
If you’d like to read previous entries in the "When Can I Watch That with My Kids?" series, click right here. Some of the films covered: Star Wars, Back to the Future, The Goonies, Hugo, The Princess Bride, The Monster Squad and Elf, to name just a few.