Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Ethan Stevenson (2nd March 2013).
The Film

According to recent statements made by both Zachary Gordon—who has played the titular Wimpy Kid, Greg Heffley, on screen in each entry—and author Jeff Kinney, “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days” was the last live-action film in the franchise’s short history. Animated adventures may follow—with an adaptation of Kinney’s sixth book, “Cabin Fever”, tentatively scheduled for release in 2014 or 2015. But, “Dog Days”, the third “Wimpy Kid” film in as many years, will likely mark the last we see of Gordon’s Greg in a life-like form on the big screen, and that’s probably a good thing.

Not that "Dog Days" is awful, but it is easily the weakest entry in a fledgling film franchise that is only mildly entraining at best. And that franchise is clearly buckling under dreaded fatigue. I’m not ashamed to admit that I enjoyed the first two films, and I completely understand the appeal of books. (I was introduced to the books and films by way of my much younger cousin, who’s the exact age of the target demographic. I've seen a lot of absolutely abominable trash under the same pretext, either because of him, my other cousins, siblings, or by own damned curiosity. And that I came away not wanting to self-harm, and was rather amused, with “Diary of a Wimpy” (2010) is a mini-miracle, and I think a decent measure of its own decent-ness).

But, the film series, (as is, at least) is clearly on its last legs. (And make those freakishly long legs, attached to the lower portion of an increasingly awkward and gangly near-teen, at that.) The franchise has been improbably successful—together, the franchise has earned near three times their combined budgets. To capitalize on this surprise success, and to get a few films in the can before the cast got too old, and too awkward, to play their parts convincingly, Fox shoved out a sequel (“Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules” (2011)) almost a year to the day after the first film, and then followed the same pattern with “Dog Days”. The rapid release strategy has had a few affects. The first film’s director dropped out of the first sequel—to be replaced by David Bowers, mostly known for his work in animation; he returns here—and the original screenwriters have fled too, one by one. Although a few hung on for “Rodrick”, an entirely new duo is behind the screenplay for “Dog Days”— Wallace Wolodarsky and Maya Forbes. Their script is the least polished, and least clever, yet. The setups and overarching structure is more sitcom-like, and the screenplay relies more heavily on slack-stick humor to sell laughs. Make no mistake, its target audience will still enjoy this latest light-hearted family comedy. But, in a textbook example of the law of diminishing returns, adults will find far fewer pleasures in this story than was true two pictures ago. In the third outing, the jokes have grown tired; the characters have become less likable, too.

Based on two of Kinney’s stick-figure-featuring books about a middle child’s miserable life in middle school, “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days” is actually a blending of the third book, “The Last Straw”, and the fourth, “Dog Days”. School’s out for summer, and Greg (Zachary Gordon) has big plans; he plans to do nothing, except play video games every waking hour for the next two months. Greg’s father, Frank (Steve Zahn), has an entirely different proposal: he thinks Greg should get outside and toughen up a little. Frank is fed up with the fact that his sons—including his eldest, audacious adolescent faux-rocker Rodrick (Devon Bostick)—are lazy. He decides to intervene, and begins discussing the possibility of enrolling Greg in Spag Union, a prep school with a curriculum focused almost entirely on discipline and obedience. With the possibility of changing schools next year looming large over his holiday, Greg remains optimistic, and is proactive, getting out of the house and away from his video games and his father each day. Greg convinces his dad that he’s got a job, but he really didn't. What he’s actually doing is accompanying his best friend Rowley Jefferson (Robert Capron), a chubby kid with a bowl-cut but a positive personality, to the country club where the Jeffersons are members. Later, when his rouse is revealed, Greg is forced to join the Wilderness Explorers and accompany his father on a trip into the wild to toughen up and learn a little responsibility. The Heffley clan also gets a dog (see, the title is both a pun, which plays off the “dog day of summer” colloquialism, and a little more literal, when a fluffy pooch arrives halfway through the film); Mom Susan starts a book club to bring the family and their friends closer together; Greg goes on vocation with the Jefferson’s to their beach house; and, in a storyline ostensibly carried over from the second film, Greg continues to fall hard for his first crush, Holly Hills (Peyton List). Holly’s sister is celebrating her sweet sixteen and wants Rodrick’s band to perform, which suits the elder Heffley just fine as he has the hots for the older Hills sister.

And so it goes. Much of “Dog Days” is a loosely connected series of silly scenarios. It’s episodic plot plays out like sitcom episodes stitched together until time just sort of runs out. And that is, I think, one of the films biggest flaws—it lacks focus, and in part, purpose. The first “Diary of Wimpy Kid” (2010), which is also the best one, was episodic, but, because it was really just about Greg’s journey in his first year of middle school, was also structured in a way that worked—the school-centered narrative lent itself to the looseness, while still providing a framing. The second film, which is mostly on par with the original, if perhaps a little less funny, took a turn to the domestic, to tell a tighter story that was really about family, and in particular, bothers. The third doesn’t really have the framing of a structured form—it is a basically just about a season, and a series of things that happen during it—and is certain less concerned with story and theme, haphazardly jumping between four or five episodes throughout the runtime.

Also problematic is the fact that Gordon has grown about a foot since the last film, and can be in no way considered “wimpy” anymore. Awkward is more like it. His voice is constantly on the verge of breaking. But because the franchise skewers just younger than the teen-set, the filmmakers purposefully chose to ignore most of the awkwardness of that comes with these “changes” (i.e. puberty). It's not unfortunate, as the franchise is intended for a slightly younger crowd, that the issue is ignored, but it does pose a problem in terms of the actors physicality. It's probably good that this was the last live action; and I assume Gordon's growth spirt was probably a deciding factor. Performances are uneven; looks aside, Gordon is fine; the kid who plays Rowley is awful, has always been awful, and will always be awful; Bostick is annoying (but Rodrick is sort of supposed to be); Steve Zahn turns a surprisingly strong performance as a conflicted father figure, once again making me wish he chose better project to be in. Few others are in the film long enough to make a lasting impression; the episodic nature also does a number there.

“Dog Days” isn’t terrible, nor is it particularly offensive. It’s overly silly at times, and has a plot that, like the mind of an ADD-addled adolescent, is a bit random and nonsensical. I suppose, it's still funny—if less appealing to adults—and is something that its core audience will still enjoy immensely. I, however, am glad that the crew is taking some time off before having another go in the (presumably more fitting) realm of animation.

Video

“Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days” is presented on Blu-ray in 2.35:1 widescreen 1080p 24/fps high definition. The AVC MPEG-4 encoded transfer has an average bitrate of 32 Mbps. IMDB states the third “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” was shot Super35, but the resulting image on Blu-ray has a mild digital texture. It's sharp, clean, and often impeccably detailed, but occasionally succumbs to a smooth video-like-look. If this was shot on film, it was slow and supple stock with a minimal grain density. Colors are vivid, with rich primaries teetering on the verge of over-saturation, but never quite to a point of fringing. A majority of the film is cast in a warm yellow filter, which flushes skin tones towards a sickly orange and flattens but of the depth and clips contrast. Whites are skewed, but the black level is solid, never crushing or robbing the image of shadow detail. The transfer is free of blocking, egregious artifacts or banding; and edge enhancement or overzealous noise reduction is also a non-issue. A few green-screened scenes suffer from poor compositing, and the entire “cranium cracker” sequence—which had to have been shot on digital—is filled with faint chromatic aberrations. But, overall, this is a nice looking disc. Perhaps limited by the production values and occasionally video-ish cinematography, but still very good.

Audio

“Dog Days” includes an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track , English Descriptive Video Service (DVS) 5.1 track, and dubs in French Dolby Digital 5.1 and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1; optional subtitles are available in English and Spanish. The third “Wimpy Kid” movie has a very strange, kind of annoying, beat, montage, beat rhythm in its storytelling structure and sound design. Fortunately, this means it has ample use of music, which all comes through wonderfully, offering excellent dynamic range and a nice use of the front and rear speakers. Unfortunately, during the montages, the music is often mixed aggressively loud, and the actual choice of music is questionable at best. I can only assume the loudness is by design, because Rodrick’s faux punk-rock cover of Justin Bieber’s “Baby”—which, yes, is one of the worst things of all time; I think that’s the point. though—is comically deafening in terms of volume (and everything else.) The score is by composer Edward Shearmur, and it too is loud and full, although less annoyingly so than the pop music. Dialogue is clear and the lossless track is satisfying in all other areas too, although with little action and a limited atmosphere, never quite offers a moment that impresses beyond genre expectations.

Extras

While wimpy might not be an entirely accurate way to describe the supplemental package of Fox’s 2-disc set of “Dog Days” the audio commentary, deleted scenes, gag reel, featurette, animated comic short film and the original theatrical trailer—and bonus DVD and digital copy—are hardly something to be overly enthusiast about. The Blu-ray is authored with optional bookmarks and the resume playback function; it is also BD-LIVE enabled, although no exclusive web content is available at this time.

DISC ONE: BLU-RAY

Do the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” films need audio commentary tracks; and more importantly, is anyone (besides a reviewer) ever going to listen to them? The audio commentary with director David Bowers on “Dog Days” is dry and he mostly describes the action on screen or shares anecdotes that aren’t particularly revealing, or interesting. Dull. This track is buried in the menu; that seems about right.

10 deleted scenes (2.40:1 1080p, 9 minutes 43 seconds, play all) with optional audio commentary by director David Bowers, include:

- “You’re Going to Have An Accident”: Greg’s younger brother makes an ominous threat at the dinner table. Greg’s mom mentions the family should spend more time together; Greg jokes his mom should start a family book club.
- “Mr. Draybick Exposed”: Greg sees his teacher in the locker room shower at the local pool (and it’s totally creepy).
- “Mom Call”: Greg calls the girl he likes; the girl’s mom picks up the phone, and so does his.
- “The Demon Headmaster”: Rowley makes an offhand comment about the headmaster of Spag Union.
- “What Happened to Nutty”: Frank reminisces about his old family dog, Nutty.
- “Dad Get Drafted”: Frank gets drafted into the Wilderness Explorers as an assistant troop leader.
- “Meet Arthur Pendrick”: Greg invents another false identity at the country club, Arthur Pendrick, a boy from England on holiday in America, who speaks with an American accent because he watches a lot of TV.
- “Fregley’s Carvings”: Greg’s troop-mate shows of his creepy wood carvings.
- “Vacation Fun”: Greg learns what the Jefferson’s consider fun, while at their cabin on vacation.
- “Alternate Ending”: the Li’l Cutie comic makes a cameo in this extended ending.

“Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Class Clown” (1080p, 2 minutes 57 seconds) is an animated short film. Done in the stick-figure style of Jeff Kinney’s original books, this micro-episode has Greg lamenting the fact that Rowley was recent voted class clown in the school year book, despite the fact that Greg is “the funniest kid in school”.

“Fox Movie Channel Presents: Wimpy Empire” (1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen 480p, 9 minutes 54 seconds) is an EPK featurette with the cast and crew offering sound bites about the franchise in-between film clips for what is a glorified extended trailer for the third film.

A gag reel (2.40:1 1080p, 5 minutes 1 second) is offered.

And lastly, the original theatrical trailer for “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days” has been included (2.40:1 1080p, 1 minute 47 seconds).

Pre-menu bonus trailers are for:

- “Parental Guidance” (1.85:1 1080p, 2 minutes 10 seconds).
- "Fox Blu-ray" promo (1080p variable AR, 1 minute 14 seconds).
- "Fox Blu-ray 3D" promo (1080p variable AR, 1 minute 1 second).
- “Ice Age: Continental Drift” (2.40:1 1080p, 2 minutes 4 seconds).

DISC TWO: DVD

The second disc includes a standard definition transfer of the film in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen with English Dolby Digital 5.1, English DVS 5.1 and Spanish Dolby 2.0 surround and French Dolby 2.0 surround. A digital copy for playback on a variety of portable media players is also included.

Packaging

“Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days” comes to Blu-ray courtesy 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, packaged in a 2-disc combo release with a Blu-ray disc, DVD and digital copy in a Elite eco-case. Inside the case is also a piece of paper with a redemption code for a digital copy; the digital copy is compatible with iTunes and UltraViolet. A cardboard slip-cover is included in first pressings.

Overall

“Dog Days”, the third film in the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” franchise in as many years, is the weakest (and supposedly last) entry in a decidedly decent, but definitely not great series of family films. It’s occasionally amusing, and a perfectly fine way to waste 94-minutes, although, the other two films were funnier—and better-written overall. Kids of a certain age group—the so-called intended audience—will get the most out of the film; parents and older adolescents will find “Dog Days’” reliance on slap-stick and episodic sitcom-scenarios a little less enjoyable and the overall product weaker than the earlier “Wimpy Kid” films. Fox’s Blu-ray offers fine audio and video, but a supplemental package that promises a lot but offers only a little. For fans of the other two films, “Dairy of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days” is worth checking out.

The Film: C Video: B+ Audio: B Extras: C- Overall: C+

 


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