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A so-so Christmas movie for a ‘Wimpy Kid’

20th Century Studios
The Heffley family sit down to open their Christmas presents in “Diary of a Wimpy Kid Christmas: Cabin Fever.” (Photo: 20th Century Studios)

A film about getting trapped in your home with your family and a dwindling toilet paper supply would have been more on point during COVID than 2023, but since when has “Diary of a Wimpy Kid Christmas: Cabin Fever” protagonist Greg Heffley (Wesley Kimmel) ever aimed to please? Since Christmas presents were on the table, apparently.

Adapted from Jeff Kinney’s novel  “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Cabin Fever” and directed by Luke Cormican, the animated movie was released on Dec. 8 for Disney+ and brings 2D black-and-white illustrations into the third dimension with a pop of color and a sprinkle of holiday spirit.

In the movie, protagonist Greg is desperately hoping for a new gaming system for Christmas and so is trying to be on his best behavior. This effort is jeopardized when he and his best friend Rowley Jefferson (Spencer Howell) accidentally wreck a snowplow, attempt to cover their tracks and get snowed-in with their respective families.

Every member of Greg’s family seems to rub him the wrong way, whether it is through his mother Susan’s (Erica Cerra) nagging about family time or his older brother Rodrick’s (Hunter Dillon) general rudeness. In the end, Greg learns to appreciate everything his family has, including both material possessions and more importantly, each other, evading potential police capture and enduring Susan’s games of charades along the way.

Though the original book is made for kids as all “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” books are, the plot and characters of the animated feature are altered for an even more kid-friendly experience.

The likes of Greg and his brothers Rodrick and Manny (Gracen Newton) are notable in the books for being self-centered and inconsiderate. However, in the movies, they are softer around the edges and kinder to one another. This makes for a warmer-but-less-humorous dynamic between them. For someone like me, who quite enjoys the books’ more abrasive versions of Greg and all the other characters, this was a mild letdown.

The plot of the movie loosely follows the original book at best. Many of the original plot points were cut out or changed, but the three core aspects were kept: vandalism, Christmas and the “cabin fever” that comes from being stuck in the same house as the Heffley family for days on end.

These changes can be either a good or bad thing depending on the viewer’s personal preference—hardcore fans of the original may be disappointed, but those looking for a more wholesome experience will like it. Despite all the alterations, some of the original book’s charm remains, and it is evident that Kinney wrote the screenplay. The jokes and humor are well-suited for all ages, and the absurd nature of the plot is just enough to keep the film from being boring. It is nothing particularly praise-worthy, but fully adequate for an hour-long holiday animated movie.

Greg gets a fully executed character arc and experiences noticeable personal growth, becoming less self-centered as the plot goes on. The lessons learned are generic, yes, but still decently done, which is all one can ask from an animated children’s film.

As one might expect, the art and animation take some getting used to. It is no easy feat to transform what are essentially highly expressive stick figures into 3D models. For example, when the characters turn their heads from facing left to right or vice versa, their mouths rapidly slide across their face from one extreme to the other to stay loyal to how the mouths are positioned in the books’ illustrations. Hair for many of the characters is essentially composed of sticks or thick string jutting out from the head and is much less charming in this form than in its original 2D form.

Despite all of this, the style has its charm. The characters are very lively, and the visuals of the film as a whole become more natural and enjoyable as you watch on. Still, the characters, backgrounds and props only ever reach an average level of appeal.

The sound effects and backing tracks of the film are fully sufficient, borrowing many famous Christmas tracks such as “All I Want From Christmas is You.” The voice acting is both expressive and suitable for the characters. The whole cast does a fantastic job of bringing the characters to life.

“Diary of a Wimpy Kid Christmas: Cabin Fever” does not particularly excel nor fail in any capacity. It only asks for an hour of your time — and a Disney+ subscription — and in return provides a decent holiday adventure. Though perhaps a film more befitting of children, the movie is still largely a good time for all.

“Diary of a Wimpy Kid Christmas: Cabin Fever”

1 hour, 2 minutes.

Rated PG.

Directed by Luke Cormican.

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About the Contributor
Carissa Tsui
Carissa Tsui, Senior Staff Writer
Carissa Tsui (Class of 2024) joined The Voice her junior year and her favorite show is Survivor. Also, her favorite color is red and her favorite animal is the ocean sponge.

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    Spencer Wu-ChinDec 11, 2023 at 10:02 pm

    What a wonderful and balanced story!! As a longtime diary of a wimpy kid reader myself (although I was always more partial to Dave Pilkey’s Captain Underpants-a-verse) this felt like a valuable perspective into this new film!