Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid Returns with ‘Rodrick Rules’

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules is streaming on Disney+ Hotstar
Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid Returns with ‘Rodrick Rules’

Jeff Kinney is nothing less than a superstar in the young-adult (YA) literary world. He has authored the widely-celebrated book series Diary of a Wimpy Kid, which revolves around the misadventures of a sulky middle-schooler, Greg Heffley. The first book was released 15 years ago and Kinney has since seen the series evolve into its own multiverse. After 20th Century Fox’s live-action adaptation of the books came Kinney’s collaboration with Disney, with the first part – Diary of a Wimpy Kid – releasing in 2021. Disney’s reboot is completely animated and lends itself more seamlessly to the comic-illustration style of Kinney’s books. Its second installment, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules, explores Greg’s relationship with his rebellious, rock-loving older brother Rodrick. Unlike the books, which focus heavily on Greg’s comical misfortunes, Rodrick Rules is more emotional and poignant in its portrayal of how boys (and men) struggle to communicate with other boys (and men). During his conversation with Film Companion, Kinney spoke about the Disney-fication of his books and more. Here are edited excerpts: 

What have been some of the fun bits of translating your book – which employs some of the simplest tools of storytelling – to a more expansive medium like the movie screen? 

Well, I think that the most exciting part of it is that I get to do it at all. It’s really exciting as a writer, as an author, to be able to adapt my own work. Because usually, screenwriting is a really different type of medium, it’s a different craft. And it took me a long time to get myself into the position to be ready to do this. And then what’s also really exciting is the fact that I can revisit my old stories, these stories that I started writing when I was 28 years old. And they weren’t written that well in terms of a storytelling perspective, and so I get to revisit those stories, take the raw materials and then make a much better story. So I think it’s personally very gratifying. 

This is a film about two brothers bonding. Did you have to add a lot more emotional heft to your usually comedic stories? 

That’s right, and that’s very astute of you to ask that. My books, my early books especially, are just joke, joke, joke, joke. I didn’t care at all about the emotional aspect of it. And of course, if you tell a story for the screen, you have to tell a story that engages the audience, that makes them feel something, so that’s really, really different. So I’m taking the same characters, telling the same basic story, but then transferring it into film creates this whole new need for an emotional arc and growth in the characters. And I think it’s really gratifying, I think it works, and it was fun to try my hand at it.

I found it really interesting that Greg and Rodrick’s inability to bond has been given many layers in the film. There’s almost a generational anxiety coating it. There’s Greg worrying about not being able to bond with his brother. There’s their father who is worrying about the same thing, but in a completely different way. And then there’s their grandfather who is worrying about his own sons not getting along. I thought about how these four men are struggling with communication. Was that something that you brought in consciously?

Yeah, what’s really interesting about writing these films for Disney is that Disney is trying to tell stories for the whole family. And so when I wrote the first movie, I got lots of notes back saying “we need to give dad more depth,” “we need to give mom more depth and agency.” And I hadn’t really thought of that before, I was just thinking, boy, this is really centred around Greg and his best friend Rowley. And as I dug in and I came to understand the process better, I started to really understand how important it is, especially for a Disney film or a family film, to allow the audience to see themselves in the characters, no matter how old they were. And so I do feel proud of that, I think probably the best moment in this movie is when grandpa is having a heart-to-heart with Greg, and that was really special. And it’s cool, you get surprised sometimes by the actor’s performances. 

You have an older brother. How much of Greg and Rodrick’s relationship came from that?

A lot. You know, my older brother, his name is Scott, he had a band and they played in the basement, just like Loded Diper [Rodrick’s rock band]. They were a little better than Loded Diper, but I got the roots of that character from my older brother, and then the roots of Manny [Greg’s younger brother] come from my younger brother. So I know this world pretty well. And of course, I’m hoping that everybody can see themselves in these characters, that these characters are like a mirror to their own eyes.

Shame plays a huge role in the film. It’s not just in the characterisation of Greg, but that’s also the core source of humour. Were you conscious about bringing in that emotion when writing the books and now the film?

I hadn’t really thought of that before, but of course, shame is going to play a role when there’s a diary involved. Greg is writing these stories in his diary. So, it was fun to have the diary become a real object in this movie, where Rodrick holds it over Greg's head because he knows he wouldn’t want his secrets to get out. So yeah, I hadn’t thought of that before, that shame really is a big component of this movie, but you’re right.

In the past, you have talked about comics being something that people can depend on because of the timelessness of the characters. How do you think that a film series adds to this legacy?

Well, we’re getting to introduce these characters to a whole new generation. There are six, seven, eight, nine-year-olds who are seeing these Diary of a Wimpy Kid stories in a whole new way, and for the first time. And so years from now I’ll get to meet people who grew up watching these movies, and hopefully, we’ll get to make a whole pile of them. So that’s a real privilege, to be able to write for different generations of kids, and it’s something I don't take for granted. 

Related Stories

No stories found.