Believe the Impossible, Discover the Incredible

Journey 2: The Mysterious Island kept the adventure going without Brendan Fraser. It’s kind of a low move, but it does represent the division between 2000’s Hollywood and 2010’s Hollywood. When Journey to the Center of the Earth (2008) came out, Brendan Fraser was a safe box-office draw. When Journey 2: The Mysterious Island came out in 2012, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was on the verge of becoming a major box-office draw. This was his first jungle movie since The Rundown, but far from his last. Journey 2 is also the second sequel to add him in a starring role.

An older pre-Hunger Games Josh Hutcherson is the only returning actor. Even his mother is recast with the more well known Kristin Davis. The Rock plays Sean’s charismatic pec-popping stepfather Hank who has useful Navy experience. As the subtitle suggests, Journey 2 now brings Jules Verne’s book The Mysterious Island to life in the real world. Except this island is also inspired by Treasure Island and Gulliver’s Travels. Sean’s grandfather Alexander Anderson is a fellow Vernian who sends him a message. Michael Caine would honestly say yes to anything at this point.

Sean and Hank travel by helicopter to the mysterious island. They’re accompanied by Vanessa Hudgens as Sean’s strong-willed love interest Kailani and Luis Guzmán as her goofy pilot father Gabato. Just like the book, giant animals are small and small animals are giant. We see giant bees, lizards, and birds rendered with mildly better CGI and somewhat less obnoxious 3D. They discover the lost city of Atlantis, but have to leave before the island sinks. Although I wasn’t expecting it, they do find a way to include Captain Nemo’s Nautilus. Despite the movie teasing a sequel based on From the Earth to the Moon, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island is just another kid friendly adventure.

Journey 2 The Mysterious Island

Hank, Sean, Kailani, and Gabato on the mysterious island

Preceded by: Journey to the Center of the Earth

World Within a World

Journey to the Center of the Earth (2008) is more 3D experience than movie. The late 2000’s were filled with movies marketed mostly for their 3D effects. Aside from Around the World in 80 Days (2004), Jules Verne novels haven’t had too many major theatrical adaptations in recent memory. All the obnoxious in your face 3D made Journey to the Center of the Earth (2008) look bad the moment I saw it. While the CGI is bad and does resemble a video game, it’s really not that bad. In this adaptation, the book Journey to the Center of the Earth turns out to be real.

Vernians study the work of Jules Verne in order to find his discoveries. Brendan Fraser stands in for Professor Lidenbrock as original American volcanologist Trevor Anderson. I don’t buy Fraser as a scientist, but it is nice seeing him as the action hero. 2008 is sadly one of his last years as a leading man. A young Josh Hutcherson plays Trevor’s somewhat rebellious 13 year old nephew Sean. Trevor recklessly brings Sean along on his journey to the center of the Earth. Where they hope to find answers about their deceased brother/father.

The helpful Icelandic guide is now a beautiful and very competent young woman named Hannah. Anita Briem is so young that I wasn’t sure who she was supposed to end up with in the end. Much like the book, the center of the Earth is fraught with peril. Aside from the usual dangers, the group has to deal with high speed mine carts, waterslides, carnivorous plants, and viscous prehistoric piranhas. The dinosaur they face is simply a T-Rex. At least bioluminescent birds are friendly. Journey to the Center of the Earth (2008) is an hour and a half adventure that doesn’t overstay its welcome.

Journey to the Center of the Earth 2008

Trevor, Sean, and Hannah ride a dinosaur jawbone

Followed by: Journey 2: The Mysterious Island

A World Beyond Imagination

Mysterious Island is the original Lost World. Famed French author Jules Verne is known for his spot on predictions about the future. 1874 novel The Mysterious Island is actually a sequel that follows in the footsteps of In Search of the Castaways and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. I don’t know much about the former, but concepts from the latter are unmistakable. Mysterious Island follows a band of Union soldiers from the Civil War who escape a Confederate prison.

There’s the leader Captain Harding, the youthful Herbert, the African American Neb, accompanying war correspondent Spillet, and Confederate prisoner Pencroft. They’re later joined by two shipwrecked women named Lady Mary and Elena. Mysterious Island almost feels like a cross between every Jules Verne movie I’ve seen up to this point. The men use a hot air balloon to escape just like Around the World in 80 Days. The titular mysterious island is populated by giant creatures just like Journey to the Center of the Earth. The primary difference is that this island mainly consists of giant animals like a giant crab, giant chicken, giant bees, and a giant cephalopod.

Since I wasn’t overly familiar with the cast, I mainly focused on the always stunning Ray Harryhausen stop-motion effects. Aside from a lot of the danger centering around water, the strongest connection to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is Captain Nemo himself. He’s alive and the Nautilus is still operational. Though it isn’t a direct sequel to the Disney movie, Herbert Lom does feel like an older version of James Mason’s portrayal. The castaways build a civilization, but have to flee when an active volcano erupts. Mysterious Island is an exciting mystery I’m pleased to have solved.

Mysterious Island

Castaways encounter a giant chicken

Exploring the Core

Journey to the Center of the Earth is an epic expedition beneath the surface. Famed French author Jules Verne is known for his spot on predictions about the future. 1864 novel Journey to the Center of the Earth accurately predicted subterranean exploration. Though this story is more science fiction than science fact. Jules Verne more so popularized the idea that there could be a prehistoric realm located at the center of the Earth. I’ve seen the idea parodied so many times, but it was time I saw the 1959 original. My parents are big fans of the movie and always recommended it.

The 20th Century Fox film ironically has a lot in common with the Disney film 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Both Jules Verne adaptations were released 5 years apart and cast James Mason in a starring role. A lot of the book is altered in terms of names, locations, and additional characters. Mason plays the similarly egotistical Scottish geological Professor Oliver Lindenbrook. Journey to the Center of the Earth has a great understanding of scientific discovery. How when a scientist has an idea, they have to pursue it. Singer Pat Boone is Lindenbrook’s dashing science student Alec who joins him when a volcanic rock inspires their expedition. Boone’s presence does make the movie feel like a musical from time to time.

The adventure itself takes some time to take off, but it is thrilling when it does. They’re joined by a strong Icelandic guide and their group’s lovable duck mascot Gertrude. Original character Carla joins the group since Lindenbrook is so against having a woman around (of course they fall in love). They’re also pursued by a villainous Count, but that’s the least of their worries. The center of the Earth is filled with many wonders and dangers. Including bioluminescent geodes, giant mushrooms, enormous bodies of water, the lost city of Atlantis, and even prehistoric creatures. Much like One Million B.C., forced perspective is used to make lizards look like dinosaurs. Journey to the Center of the Earth is a sight to behold.

Journey to the Center of the Earth

The Lindenbrook expedition encounters a Megalania

Zoo-Wee Mama!

Diary of a Wimpy Kid (2021) is Disney once again shelling out anything they own the rights to. Live action Diary of a Wimpy Kid movies were all but over after Dog Days was released in 2012. I think The Long Haul meant well, but nobody wanted to see new actors only 5 years after the third movie. Since Jeff Kinney’s book series is just too popular, Fox wanted to keep it relevant no matter what. Even after Disney acquired the rights. Aside from the short film Class Clown, the only animated Diary of a Wimpy Kid project would’ve been Cabin Fever.

When that fell through, Disney chose to reboot the entire series with computer animated movies on Disney+. I don’t know what it is, but somehow Diary of a Wimpy Kid (2021) feels like the most contractually obligated movie they’ve made up to this point. Although the Disney brand is all over it, this “feature film” is only 58 minutes long. So much of the book is cut out that it almost feels abrupt when it ends. Events are streamlined to almost exclusively focus on Greg Heffley and Rowley Jefferson’s friendship.

So they only include the big wheel accident, Halloween, sleeping over at Fregley’s, Zoo-Wee-Mama! comics, and of course “the Cheese Touch.” Wrestling, Christmas, the school play, and just about everything else is cut. Even mom, dad, Manny, and Rodrick are barely in the movie. It doesn’t help that the cast is almost entirely unknown. Then there’s the animation. Despite having these perfectly good 2D illustrations, Kinney went with 3D animated characters, and it just doesn’t look right. Diary of a Wimpy Kid (2021) isn’t exactly the fresh start it could’ve been.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid 2021

Greg and Rowley makeup

Animated Reboot of: Diary of a Wimpy Kid (2010)

The Heffley Family Road Trip

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul is not what fans had in mind. Rather than end the franchise after the cast grew up, the sort of sequel removed everyone I grew to like. I was more than a little baffled when the trailer first dropped. Despite only adapting the first 4 Jeff Kinney books, The Long Haul goes straight to the 9th book. Since I’m such a completionist, I read the first 10 books just to get to the final live action movie. The Ugly Truth and Cabin Fever were a lot of fun, but only the latter was seriously considered for an animated special. Since there’s a lot of good material in The Third Wheel, Hard Luck, and Old School, the movie sloppily works in plot points from those books.

The Long Haul arguably made the most sense for a movie adaptation, since it’s about a road trip gone wrong. Although the movie retains director David Bowers, 20th Century Fox, and slightly updated animation, The Long Haul is significantly worse. There’s a serious reliance on potty humor, cringy internet culture, and the new cast is more distracting than anything. Jason Drucker doesn’t have half the charm of the previous Greg Heffley. The unknown Owen Asztalos who plays Rowley is barely in the movie. Charlie Wright’s hair is way too long and he feels so miscast that the #NotMyRodrick began trending. Tom Everett Scott barely tries as Greg’s dad, but I can hardly fault the toddlers who play Manny.

Strangely enough, I feel like Alicia Silverstone was trying the hardest as Greg’s mother. The film keeps the Corny’s family restaurant from The Third Wheel, visiting Meemaw from Hard Luck, and mom’s technology ban from Old School. Almost everything from The Long Haul is adapted for the movie. Including the antagonistic Beardo family, wrecking the car, Manny’s tooth pacifier, and winning a pig at the county fair. Even the funniest moments from the book are somehow ruined. The biggest offense was adding an unfunny meme that torments Greg and a YouTuber that he wants to meet at a video game expo. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul is a waste of a good book.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid The Long Haul

The Heffley’s on the road

Li’l Cutie

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days brings summer and the franchise to an end. As I said in my Rodrick Rules review, there was no way Fox was gonna adapt every book in the ongoing series. There were already 6 books and no sign of Jeff Kinney slowing down. Zachary Gordon, Robert Capron, Devon Bostick, and other young actors stuck with the movies for 3 years, but it was clear they outgrew their roles. Despite the title, Dog Days is actually a combination of the third book The Last Straw and the titular fourth book. My brother made the mistake of only getting Dog Days to read. So I read The Last Straw after the fact.

Just like the rest of the movies, you wouldn’t believe how much material was spread out in each installment. Since The Last Straw and Dog Days focus on Greg Heffley’s father, most of the attention is given to him. Rachel Harris takes a backseat to Steve Zahn’s excitable wide-eyed antics. As Greg tries to enjoy the dog days of summer, he continues to pine for Holly Hills. Peyton List is given way more attention than her character ever got in the books. Fregley, Chirag, and Patty were always given more attention.

Holly actually likes Greg and they have a cute little romance. Her bratty older sister Heather is the object of Rodrick’s affection instead of Greg. The film keeps an awkward trip to the public pool, Manny’s “Tingy” blanket, summer reading, going to the boardwalk with Rowley’s close family, spending time at a country club, boy scouts, Greg’s dad considering military school, Li’l Cutie, and getting a troublemaking dog named Sweetie. It’s a lot of material, but animation fills in the gaps as usual. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days is enough to keep fans satisfied.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid Dog Days

Greg, Rowley, and Holly hang by the pool

Preceded by: Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules

Löded Diper

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules shifts the focus to brotherhood. Something I can very much relate to.  Just like the first book, I read Jeff Kinney’s 2008 follow up book Rodrick Rules before seeing the movie. The movie was also an immediate follow up since Fox needed to strike while the iron was hot. Middle Schoolers aren’t getting any younger. Zachary Gordon’s voice changed, but Robert Capron and most other classmates sound about the same. After reading the sequel, I realized just how many scenes in Diary of a Wimpy Kid were borrowed from Rodrick Rules. The adaptation is comparable to the first in terms of what they add, subtract, or alter. Animation is still used in all the usual places.

As Greg Heffley enters the 7th grade, his brothers get on his nerves more than usual. His younger brother Manny is a tattletail and older brother Rodrick continues to pick on him. Devon Bostick is given more of a spotlight with a better understanding of his sibling rivalry and rock band Löded Diper. Steve Zahn is just as overly enthusiastic as he was before, but it’s Rachel Harris who has more time to shine as their embarrassing music loving mom. Rowley is still Greg’s best friend, but he mostly tags along or focuses on magic. Absent characters like Fregley or Patty stick around and Chirag is given his “Invisible Chirag” storyline from the book.

Greg’s crush Holly Hills is mentioned in Rodrick Rules, but she doesn’t become important until later books. The movie casts a young Peyton List as Holly in order to give Greg a romantic subplot. At least she replaces the unnecessary original character from the first movie. The film keeps Greg’s embarrassing summer, “Mom Bucks,” Rodrick’s wild party, Rowley’s sleepover, visiting grandpa at a retirement home, and a talent competition. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules isn’t a deep representation of brotherhood, but it is an okay way to kill an hour and a half.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid Rodrick Rules

Greg and Rodrick try to hide their mess

Preceded by: Diary of a Wimpy Kid & Followed by: Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days

The Cheese Touch

Diary of a Wimpy Kid is the movie based on the journal that definitely isn’t a diary. In case you’re unaware, the Diary of a Wimpy Kid book series has been very popular with kids since 2007. Author Jeff Kinney intended it to be like The Wonder Years. Although I was 11 when the first book was published, I’ll admit I hadn’t heard of the series until the first movie came out. 20th Century Fox acquired the rights with the intention of launching a franchise. Since the books are quick and funny, I decided to read Diary of a Wimpy Kid before watching the adaptation. There are several differences, but the movie does capture the spirit of the diary journal. Animation is even used to recreate the signature artwork from the books.

Greg Heffley is your average kid navigating the highs and lows of Middle School. Zachary Gordon has the right energy, but he’s not really arrogant enough. Robert Capron does manage to capture the childish innocence of Greg’s best friend Rowley. Much like the book, the focus is primarily on their friendship and futile attempts to be more popular. Other important characters from the book are mostly well represented. Devon Bostick shines as Greg’s pesky older brother Rodrick, Rachel Harris fits as Greg’s bespectacled mother, and Steve Zahn is a little more excitable as Greg’s father. There’s also his embarrassing younger brother Manny.

Weird classmate Fregley practically leaps off the page, academic student Patty is upgraded to Greg’s bully, and small Indian classmate Chirag is also more present than he was in the book. For some reason, Chloë Grace Moretz is added to the movie as an original character who questions school social status. Obviously an entire school year can’t be covered in an hour and a half movie. So the movie adapts key moments, reworks some, and adds a few unnecessary childish gags. The film keeps the wrestling tryouts, Halloween, Safety Patrol, the Wizard of Oz play, Rowley’s big wheel accident, and Zoo-Wee Mama! comics. Then there’s the fabled “Cheese Touch” that just about everything centers around. Diary of a Wimpy Kid captures those awkward preteen years almost as well as the book.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid

Greg and Rowley eat lunch with Fregley

Followed by: Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules

Pigeon: Impossible

Spies in Disguise is the unceremonious final film from Blue Sky Animation. Despite already owning Pixar, Disney ended up obtaining the rights to Blue Sky with their 20th Century Fox acquisition. Only to shut the studio down a year later. My brother and I saw Spies in Disguise on Christmas blissfully unaware that it would be the last. Although it’s a strange way to end Blue Sky’s run, I’m glad I ended up enjoying their last movie. Spies in Disguise is surprisingly based on an ameteur computer animated short on YouTube called Pigeon: Impossible (watch the short here).

The movie is given high quality computer animation, but nothing fancy. The plot instead makes Agent Walter Beckett a super smart boy genius and turns the pesky pigeon into a spy in disguise. The always charismatic Will Smith essentially plays himself as the self-proclaimed “World’s Greatest Spy” Lance Sterling. He has a variety of gadgets, spy cars, and takes out the Yakuza with little effort. Since Tom Holland is literally everywhere, it was only a matter of time before he did animation. Walter works with Sterling at the agency H.T.U.V. hidden under the Washington Monument. The young scientist pushes for colorful non-lethal gadgets.

I honestly wasn’t sure how I felt about the movie until Walter transforms Sterling into a pigeon. The absurd situation is laugh out loud hilarious. Sterling blends in with a gang of comical pigeons and sticks with Walter until he gets his body back. All the while H.T.U.V. thinks he’s a traitor to the organization. Rashida Jones voices one of many semi-serious agents who hunts Sterling down. Ben Mendelsohn not so surprisingly voices the Bond-esque villain Killian who plans to conquer the world with era appropriate drones. Walter and pigeon Sterling end up bonding on their wacky spy adventure and learn to accept unique ways of solving their problems. Spies in Disguise flew in at just the right time.

14. Spies in Disguise

Agent Sterling (pigeon) and Walter (human)