The riotous antics of angst-ridden, disaster-prone middle school student Greg Heffley continue in Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules, focusing this time around on his complicated relationship with older brother Rodrick.
A spikey-haired high school student, Rodrick is lazy and undisciplined and spends way too much time practising with his rock band, Löded Diper. While he loves to torment Greg, he ultimately has a deep affection for his younger brother. Directed by Luke Cormican (Teen Titans Go!) and written and produced by Jeff Kinney, the movie features an all-star cast.
Based on Kinney's hit series of books, which have sold more than 275 million copies worldwide, this animated adaptation arrives on Disney+ on December 2, and we recently had the opportunity to sit down with the author and screenwriter.
During the course of our conversation, Jeff talks us through what it's been like to see the love for the franchise continue to grow, explaining why he thinks his stories are a good fit for animation and shedding some light on the experience of writing the books and these movies.
He also talks us through how he still manages to find the voices of these characters at this point in his career and confirms he hopes to adapt all the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books for Disney+!
Check out our full conversation with the best-selling author in the player below.
I know you guys have just had Thanksgiving, and I hope it was a great one, but what did it mean to you to once again see your creation as part of that iconic Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade?
Yeah, it was really cool. This was a new balloon this year and I got to walk it, so I got to see it very, very up close. What was really fun about it is we sort of went back to basics with this one and we made it about the Cheese Touch which is a very simple concept [Laughs] in that Greg is trying to touch some cheese. I think it worked. It made it feel more timeless than any of the other balloons, so it was a privilege to have it fly.
The live-action Diary of a Wimpy Kid films were all successful at the box office, but what about streaming and this animated format do you think perhaps better suits your books on screen?
Well, definitely you feel like the stories have sprung to life from the pages of the journal. Of course, there’s a lot of fidelity of the drawings Greg does of himself and the 3D animated characters, so you don’t have to make that leap as an audience member. There’s also a lot you can do with animation that enhances the comedy and makes it a little more ridiculous which I think suits the tone of the books very well.
Do these adaptations means more to you in some ways as you are the one adapting them for the screen rather than handing them off to a studio and its own creative team?
It does mean a lot to me. I’ve wanted to be a screenwriter for years, but I wasn’t really ready until now. I had to learn a lot. Screenwriting is a whole craft unto itself, and I wasn’t ready when those live-action movies came out. I was there on set for four live-action films and all the writers and producers meetings, so I got to learn a lot, drink it in, and hope it’s paying off now and putting out good work.
It’s been fourteen years since the Rodrick Rules book was released, so what was it like for you to revisit the story so many years later and how much did the way the world and kids have changed in that time impact your approach?
In some ways yes, and in some ways no. Really, these stories are timeless, so it would happen the same way fourteen years ago as it did now. But, I do think that in writing, converting, and adapting my story for the screen, I should tell the story in a whole new way. When I wrote the book, my priority was humour. So, it’s joke, joke, joke, and I didn’t care at all about the story, character growth, or anything like that. The emotional aspect of the story. Now, writing for film, I have to care almost exclusively about that. It really is the same source material, but it’s conveyed in a really different way.
I love the animation style in these films and while it’s obviously very much in line with what we’ve seen on the page, what have you enjoyed most about seeing that come to life in these animated features?
The whole process is amazing. It’s really the best part of my professional life to be able to write words and to have them come to life. For example, I might say in two sentences, ‘Greg rally rides down the street on a big wheel.’ That turns into a whole world! Somebody has to design the characters, the sound, the street, the mailboxes, everything. Then, I get to see all of those elements as they cross my desk and I get to approve all of those things. It’s wild to me just the power of words and the privilege of getting to write something and have people carry out your vision.
You’ve always done such a great job capturing the voice of young people; is it just second nature at this point or still a challenge each time you approach these Diary of a Wimpy Kid projects?
It does feel natural to me, but I do have a bit of concern that I’m 51 years old now. When I’m 60, will I be able to get inside of a kid’s head? I’m not really sure! So, I’m just trying to ride this wave and hold on to this voice as long as I can.
This franchise, and its characters, have so many fans - what does it mean to you that, along with the younger viewers who will watch this movie, you also still have the adults who have been there from the start?
It’s cool and it’s super weird. I’m just starting to meet young adults who read my books as kids and they’re entering into their careers. Something I’m really excited about actually is I want to meet that kid who grew up on my books and got into comedy because of it. I want to see how that comes out the other end. What does it mean for a kid to have grown up on my comedy and then become a comedian or comic writer. I’m excited about that!
You’ve got another 15 books in that main series after Rodrick Rules, so is it your hope that we might eventually get to see all of those and more on Disney+?
Definitely. We want to do every single one. I think we’ll probably tell the stories out of order, almost for sure. I think we aspire to do as many of these as we can and we’re going to do them until somebody tells us to stop.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules premieres on Disney+ on December 2.