Dog Days is the third movie in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid film series, which is based on the books by Jeff Kinney. Kinney's books are done in the form of the main character Greg Heffley writing in first person, with line-drawn cartoons interspersed. The movies are live action with Greg (Zachary Gordon) narrating some scenes and some animated segments drawn in the same style as the books' drawings are also thrown in. This movie actually takes elements from the third and fourth books in the series, "The Last Straw" and "Dog Days." The main characters from the first two movies are back- along with Greg, there's his mother Susan (Rachael Harris), dad Frank (Steve Zahn), slacker older brother Rodrick (Devon Bostick) and awkward but confident best friend Rowley (Robert Capron). Most of the supporting characters are also back, including geeky Fregley (Grayson Russell) and undersized Chirag (Karan Brar) although they aren't included in many scenes here.
Rodrick Rules had Greg's relationship with his older brother as the primary focus, in Dog Days the main conflict is his relationship with his father who wants him to be more productive. The story takes place during the summer after Greg's seventh-grade school year (the basis for the second movie) has ended. Greg's voice has changed by now and he's getting more interested in the opposite sex, but Rowley still seems rather child-like as he has in the past two movies. Greg wants to stay home and play video games all day, but his parents have other plans for him. A point is made of Greg's dad believing that kids in general should be outside playing sports, something I could definitely relate to as I've always been more of an indoor person but growing up my dad was often bugging me to get outside and exercise.
Greg tries to fake out his dad by going outside right before he is about to arrive home from work, running under a sprinkler with a football so it will appear he's been out playing. Dad catches on though so Greg has to find another escape from his nagging. He finds one at the country club Rowley's family belongs to (this movie clarifies that Rowley's parents are loaded.) Rowley lets him accompany him there to hang out and try to impress a girl he's had a crush on who is there teaching kids how to play tennis. As that still isn't very productive Greg tells his dad that he's gotten a job there. His brother Rodrick threatens to expose the scheme unless he also sneaks him into the club.
Other summer misadventures include a trip with Rowley and his parents to their vacation home, where we learn more about how odd Rowley's parents are and how they may have made him the way he is, and a visit to a nearby amusement park. Of course Rowley's parents don't want them to go on any of the more intense rides. (The ride they do go on looks identical to the "Screamer" at a local mini-golf course which I drive past frequently; I keep meaning to go on it!) Meanwhile Greg's parents are still on his case- Dad considers enrolling him in a military school, and Mom forces him to form a reading club with his friends where they get together and read classics like "Little Women". (I remember one summer where I was forced by my parents to read "A Tale of Two Cities", and I honestly didn't understand it.) Dad also becomes a scoutmaster and Greg and his friends join the troop and go camping. Dog Days reaches a hilarious climax when Rodrick's metal garage band "Loded Diper" is hired to play at a spoiled rich girl's birthday party (the older sister of Greg's crush). When they learn the party's tastes are more pop than metal, they launch into a rendition of Justin Bieber's song "Baby".
The kids provide some good laughs here, although it's gotten to the point when you wonder just when they are going to start growing up (of course given that the books are mainly in cartoon form, the actors have to walk a fine line between cartoonish and more realistic behavior). By eighth grade I certainly don't remember anyone being as childish as Rowley, or immature as Fregley. It would be interesting to see what happens if the movie series continues from here. If they can keep the actors on board, I could see them transitioning to high school and facing more pressing issues although that may be outside the reach of the books. Rachael Harris is still funny as the rather straight-laced mother, Steve Zahn is OK as the father although I've never been able to completely buy him in that role given the mostly dim-witted characters he's played previously (and his mind-numbingly idiotic commentary on the Joy Ride DVD.)
Dog Days is presented here in its 2.35 theatrical aspect ratio. The movie was shot on real film- in Super 35 and not true anamorphic, but these days I'm happy just to see anything shot on film at all. Picture is very sharp and clear with bright colors and some intentional film grain. The included standard DVD uses the same transfer and appears softer than the Blu-Ray but still looks OK for a standard-definition disc.
Main audio on the Blu-Ray is 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio. There are some good directional effects up front including some panned dialogue, but the surrounds aren't used very much- in fact this is one of those movies where if you have guests over, they may ask if you "have the surround sound turned on." The previous two movies had rather effective surround use. Dialogue is clear and the music score from the first two movies, mainly the second, is re-used in many parts here.
The Blu-Ray disc has more foreign-language dubs than what is listed on the cover. All in 5.1, we get Spanish, French, Portuguese and Italian tracks (in Dolby Digital except the Italian in standard DTS.) There is also a "Descriptive Audio" track where a female narrator describes parts of the movie in between dialogue. The standard DVD includes the main and descriptive audio in Dolby Digital 5.1 with Spanish and French dubs in Pro-Logic.
Subtitles on the Blu-Ray and DVD are in all languages except French (the French subtitle track is only there to translate words that appear on-screen during the movie) and also includes the choice of Brazilian or "standard" Portuguese. The DVD also includes standard TV-decoded closed-captions and appears to be the same transcription as the English subtitles, although the words are positioned differently.
The Blu-Ray disc has the same menu structure as those of the two previous Wimpy Kid movies. As before, there is an unadvertised commentary track, this time with director David Bowers. I only had time to check parts of it while writing this review (I will of course listen to all of it eventually, but have still not gotten to the previous two movies' commentaries yet), but Bowers comments mainly on how he likes the actors and gives props to some of the behind-the-scenes people. He also relates some of his personal experiences to scenes in the movie, and talks about how the order of some scenes was re-arranged because it was decided the movie played out better that way. I noticed he ends his commentary right when the end credits start, usually a sign that there was a shortage of things to say. Subtitles for the commentary are available in English and Italian.
Except where noted, all extras and trailers are presented in HD with 5.1 audio, and extras are also subtitled in all languages included for the movie except French. There is a short line-drawn animated segment titled "Class Clown" narrated by Greg where he shows ways he's goofed off in class and played practical jokes. Ten deleted scenes, mostly short bits that were cut from existing scenes, are included with commentary from David Bowers. A 10-minute segment called "Wimpy Empire" is included where author Jeff Kinney himself talks about his books and the movies adapted from them (this is in 16x9 standard-definition with mono sound. The frame rate on this is jerky, and an annoying "FX Movie Channel" logo is at the bottom of the screen for most of it although it disappears when it would have obstructed text. Thanks for reminding me why I don't have cable.) Finally, there's a 5-minute "Gag Reel" (I guess this has replaced the term "blooper") of actors messing up during shooting.
The theatrical trailer for Dog Days is also included.
The disc opens with a trailer for Parental Guidance, followed by a Fox Blu-Ray "Family Movie Night" promo and another promo for its 3D titles (it would have been nice if this were actually presented in 3D for those of us equipped for it, even if this movie is not) and a trailer for Ice Age: Continental Drift. These are all selectable from the main menu along with a trailer for Chasing Mavericks and a 15-second spot for Crooked Arrows. Some additional material for other Fox family titles is available through a BD-Live link, but as usual my internet service was not able to show any of these without excessive pausing.
The standard DVD includes the movie only (including the descriptive audio track, but not the commentary), not even a single trailer is included here. There is a "Digital Copy" file on the disc for use with iTunes. An Ultraviolet code is also included, which I redeemed for use with Vudu. (The transfer there appears to be the same, in the proper aspect ratio with 5.1 Dolby Digital Plus audio.)
I have enjoyed all of the Wimpy Kid movies so far. My life during this time was not the greatest so I can relate in a lot of ways to the characters and situations, although they are definitely played for laughs here with no heavy-handed insights. I don't know how much further Jeff Kinney intends to take this series, but I'd enjoy seeing it continue at least until Greg reaches college. (During the commentary, David Bowers comments that Zachary Gordon is becoming a lot less "wimpy" as he gets older.) Whether or not you enjoy Dog Days will depend mainly on your reaction to the books and the first two movies.
Pictures in this review were taken from the included standard DVD.