It was 90 degrees as what has become known as a Papa Adventure began on the shoreline of Lake Michigan. My three grandsons, who call me Papa, were looking forward to an adventure as they refer to our outings. I wisely chose the lakeshore in the hope of enjoying a refreshing breeze coming in off the lake on the humid Dog Day of August with the new school year looming on the horizon. The fifth grader and two 7th graders have become a constant reminder of my decades of service as an educator to those of similar ages. As usual, this adventure would be a mix of culture, outside activity and, of course, a movie.
This time the cultural part began at the Italian Community Center of Milwaukee. There I introduced them to the replicas of “The Stone Cutter Genius,” Michelangelo, in the form of a Pieta sculpture and paintings replicating his masterpiece on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome. The highlight however was the Lego Leaning Tower of Pisa display. As formidable Lego enthusiasts they had great admiration for the engineering students of UW/Milwaukee who created it. Having thus been “cultrified” we were off on a hike along the paths of the shoreline.
This took us past “Festival Park” or the Summerfest grounds where ethnic festivals such as “Festa Italiana,” during which the “boys” had helped me with promoting my books and which was now being prepared for Fiesta Mexicana, takes place. Along the way an older woman invited us to privately view an automotive treasure. Peering into the covering trailer we then entered to closely examine a 1914 Stutz Bearcat racing car. Its owner, John, answered the questions of the “boys” patiently as they had never seen such a vehicle which was indeed the “cat’s meow” in its day. In fact they learned that it could still reach speeds of 85 mph. I couldn’t help but add a bit of history by pointing out that the car was used when Woodrow Wilson was President of the USA and Czar Nicholas II ruled Russia as World War I was taking place in Europe. The couple had come from Missouri to display the car at the week-end Classic Car Show (Aug. 25-26) along the lakeshore.
Bidding out thanks to the elderly couple, we said farewell to the bright yellow 98 year old car and headed for the bike rental pavilion. There we chose a Surrey Bike built for four. The challenge was to get all of us to peddle in sync. My legs still hurt from the experience. Climbing a few trees to enjoy those breezes, which I mentioned earlier, may have added to that condition as well.
At last it was time to proceed to the cinema where, appropriately enough, we would view on the hot humid day the movie, “The Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days.” The “boys” had read all of Jeff Kinney’s series of a middle school boy dealing with the challenges of growing up and coping with a school environment where his nerdy and innocent qualities often placed him at odds with his older brother and classmates. Finding a film which focuses on a boy’s issues not related to conquests from outer space or electronic games is hard to find. Having all three expressing the desire to see this movie is an even greater accomplishment. And so we settled back. I especially desired to see how they would relate to the story of a boy around their age who, like them, was more interested in playing “Mind Craft” or some other electronic game during the summer months.
With popcorn in hand they soon were absorbed into the character of Greg Heffley (played by Zachary Gordon wonderfully well) and his antics in the summer before he was entering 8th grade. It was a time when the character was beginning to notice girls (Holly Hills played by Peyton List) while also dealing with his older brother Roderick (Devon Bostick) and having his friendship with Rowley (Robert Capron) tested.
A more perfect film for boys in middle school cannot be found in my opinion. The author of the Wimpy Kid series, Jeff Kinney, also produced this film. The films, like the books, have followed Greg, his family and friends as they grow up. In fact during the credits the characters’ images were shown as they looked in the first film and each subsequent ones. As with the other films, the use of cartoonish drawings which transform into live action as the characters are introduced is clever. It seems that it did hit a positive note with my grandsons as well, as they reacted to the camping scene moment when they about jumped out of their seat, understood the tension between the Greg character and his father, Frank Heffley ( Steve Zahn) and the scene in which Greg lost his swim trunks. This of course is always a funny sequence because anything that relates to body parts and functions is a typical discussion topic for boys that age and well beyond I might add.
Despite how sophisticated my grandsons may want to be, they are very much like the characters in this movie. That is, they are often naïve and innocent This is true despite there conversations in the back seat of the van on the way to the film which focused on the girl in the white bikini sunning herself while we rode by on the Surrey bike or when the one 7th grader informed the other of his stiffened condition when he looked at girls. These were all innocently recounted and the reply to the statement illustrates my point as the other 7th grader responded that his “stiffened thing” is just a muscle growing and that it would go away if he thought about other things.
Well there’s nothing like that exchange, which took place in the van, in the Wimpy Kid movie. There is, however, a lot about father and son relationships, older sibling issues and bonds of friendship challenges. And for that the film has earned a grade of B+ for its cleverness, appropriate subject matter for younger kids who aren’t street wise and funny scenes.
(Arthur Cola is the author of four novels which may be viewed on amazon.com/kindle and at www.feedaread.com. His screenplay, Ring of the Magi, is being developed by Producer Ron Kolman).