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)

Other Natural Disasters

The Evening Star is the continuation of Terms of Endearment no one’s heard of. Sequels to Best Picture winning films aren’t very common, but author Larry McMurtry wrote many books in his Houston series. The Evening Star picks up where Aurora Greenway left off. Shirley MaClaine reprises her Oscar winning role and seems to be doing everything she can to hold the movie together. Unlike Terms of Endearment, The Evening Star was not praised by critics. I feel like the sequel tries too hard to recapture what worked in the first movie.

Aurora is once again dealing with family problems and her complicated love life. Emma’s children are grown up and just as troubled as she was. Tommy is not so surprisingly in jail, Teddy has a disrespectful son, and Melanie desperately wants to get away from her overprotective granny. Juliette Lewis has played rebellious characters like this before. Emma’s best friend Patsy is recast with a more meddlesome Miranda Richardson. Aurora is at odds with her, but maintains a small circle of friends that includes the General Hector and her maid Rosie.

The latter is also recast with Marion Ross at least deserving a Golden Globe nomination. Ben Johnson plays her neighbor/husband Arthur in his final film role after passing away. Jack Nicholson manages to steal the show despite being nothing more than a glorified cameo. Aurora’s primary romantic conquest is a creepy relationship between her and her counselor Jerry played by the much younger Bill Paxton. This time not one, but three characters die in an attempt to elicit the same emotional response. The Evening Star is a little burnt out.

The Evening Star

Aurora and Garrett look at the evening star

Preceded by: Terms of Endearment

Come to Terms

Terms of Endearment is a lot to come to terms with. It’s a human-interest story that was very common in the 80’s. The kind of story guaranteed to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Aside from its Oscar win, I never had too many expectations going into Terms of Endearment. I only knew it was a tearjerker, and that my manager strongly recommended it. Simpsons producer James L. Brooks directed, produced, and wrote the film himself. Winning three separate Oscars in the process. Terms of Endearment is based on a 1975 novel by Larry McMurtry. It chronicles the back and forth relationship between a mother and her daughter. I just don’t think it’s for me. Just about everyone is flawed and occasionally unlikeable.

The great Shirley MaClaine won Best Actress for her performance as the controlling Aurora, who maintains an obsessively close relationship with her daughter. Debra Winger was nominated for her performance as Emma, who deliberately marries a man her mother doesn’t approve of. Jeff Daniels got a serious career boost playing Emma’s neutral college professor husband Flap. Nearly 30 years of their lives go by with little warning. Emma and Flap have three kids, but each of them have affairs when life gets too tough. John Lithgow was nominated for his performance as Emma’s kind of pathetic lover Sam.

Aurora’s love life is just as complicated. She distances herself from Danny DeVito, but ends up falling for Jack Nicholson. Nicholson very much deserved his Best Supporting Actor win as Aurora’s overly confident, yet somehow charming former astronaut neighbor Garrett. I felt the most invested when he was on screen. Reality sets in when someone is diagnosed with a terminal illness and everyone has to come to terms with it. Although I was on the verge of tears, I guess I couldn’t connect as much as I could’ve. Even though it is a perfect catharsis for each character. Terms of Endearment is technically brilliant with a perfect cast, fine performances, and realistic characters dealing with realistic problems.

Terms of Endearment

Emma lays down with her mother Aurora

Followed by: The Evening Star

Bull in a China Shop

Ferdinand is loaded with bull stuff. I never read it, but the children’s book The Story of Ferdinand is as old as 1936. Ferdinand is a lovable gentle giant who’d rather smell flowers under a cork tree than bullfight. It’s a simple story with a simple lesson, but people have read more into it over the years. My earliest exposure to Ferdinand was in The Blind Side, but I have since watched the 1938 Disney short Ferdinand the Bull. Blue Sky Animation finally decided to make a feature film after their failure with Ice Age: Collision Course.

My disillusion with the studio made me skip the movie in theaters; only for Ferdinand to be nominated for Best Animated Feature. The computer animation is simply pleasant to look at. He’s not Spanish, but John Cena is perfect for the flower loving bull considering his experience in arenas. The basic plot of Ferdinand having a peaceful life before a bee makes him look mad is kept intact. There’s just a lot of padding like a little girl named Nina who raises him like a dog. The celebrity cast of colorful characters similarly makes the movie longer with cartoony antics.

There’s a calming goat with Kate McKinnon’s occasionally annoying voice, a tough cattle of potential bulls, overly flamboyant horse bullies, and a trio of comic relief technicolor hedgehogs named Una, Dos, and Cuarto (we don’t not speak of Tres). Though the funniest gag is the classic “Bull in a china shop.” Ferdinand is also set in modern day with all the dated pop culture references and songs you’d expect. The book’s climactic bullfight against matador El Primero feels big without having to sacrifice its flower smelling conclusion. Though it does feel like a disposable kids movie, Ferdinand has a lot of heart.

13. Ferdinand

Ferdinand smells flowers under a cork tree