They say that knowledge is power. Maybe that’s why Greg Heffley feels so powerless.
Yeah, Greg knows some stuff. He knows how to draw, for instance. He’s a skilled video gamer. He knows what passes for cool at Westmore Middle School. And he knows for sure that his best friend, Rowley, ain’t it.
But he doesn’t know important things—like how to get out of doing the dishes or finagling a way to make your mom do your homework. He doesn’t know how to drum. And even if he knows what isn’t cool, he hasn’t quite figured out how to be cool.
Nope, such is the arcane wisdom of big brothers. And Greg’s own big brother, Rodrick, isn’t sharing.
Or, at least, he wasn’t.
That changed when Greg’s and Rodrick’s parents left to celebrate their anniversary one weekend, leaving the boys in (gasp) charge of themselves. Rodrick—being cool and all—used this newfound responsibility to throw an unsanctioned, unapproved party. And what a party it was. Or, at least, so it seemed. Rodrick locked Greg and Rowley in the basement, so all their knowledge of said party came by looking through a hole in the door.
But when the Heffley parents decided to come home a day early, Rodrick needed help cleaning the place up. Greg—still bleary from his sleepless night in the basement—wasn’t about to scrub marker off the wall without a little payment.
“If I help you clean up this mess, things are going to be different between us,” he tells Rodrick. He wants his big bro to tell him stuff. Feed him all that big-brother knowledge that he’s been holding out on.
“You keep your mouth shut about the party, and I’ll tell you everything I know,” Rodrick reluctantly agrees.
Yep, turns out knowledge is power. Greg knows all about Rodrick’s raging party—and now, for once, he’s got a little power to throw around, too.
Those familiar with Jeff Kinney’s original Diary of a Wimpy Kid book series (or any of its screen-based adaptations) know that neither Greg nor Rodrick are meant to be admirable characters. Kinney himself says that Greg is based on his own “worst qualities” in school, and Rodrick can often be a step or two worse than those.
But we do see both of them slowly feeling their way toward what it means to be a good brother. That means looking out for each other, sometimes in unexpected ways.
That message comes with an extra layer of poignancy, given that Frank Heffley—the boys’ father—has a fractured relationship with his own brother. Frank has few good memories of his unnamed sibling, and it’s a source of regret for Grandpa Heffley. “Now they’ve grown apart,” he tells Greg. “I just wish they’d worked things out when they were young.” And while Greg and Rodrick’s relationship needs a lot of work, we get the sense that they’re close (after a fashion), and that they’ll remain close, when they reach adulthood.
Frank and the boys’ mother, Susan, take their responsibilities as parents quite seriously, and they seem to be pretty good ones. They both require their kids to do chores and to behave responsibly. They ground their kids when the boys do something wrong. And while Frank might strike Rodrick and Greg as overly strict, and while Susan can be overly trusting, they seem to be doing their best to keep their kids on the right road (even if the kids sometimes make a dash cross-country).
A couple of senior citizens bring lucky charms to Bingo Night.
A mishap at Leisure Towers, the retirement community where Grandpa Heffley lives, forces Greg to try to change his pants in the Towers’ public restrooms down in the lobby. He accidentally steps into the women’s restroom, though. And when he’s discovered, he spends a good chunk of time running through the community in his underwear, with his elderly pursuers calling him a “Peeping Tom.” (The accusation is later repeated on a nightly newscast.)
Rodrick doesn’t wear a shirt for part of the movie (though it’s worth noting here that we’re talking about simply-drawn, stick-figure-like animation.)
Susan dances to the music of Rodrick’s band, Löded Diper, sometimes wiggling her rear in time with the tune. She and Frank leave home to celebrate their anniversary.
When Greg believes that Rodrick is going to allow him and Rowley to attend Rodrick’s party, Rowley’s awed and perhaps slightly horrified that it might be a “boy-girl party.” We hear about how two teens “got their nose rings locked.”
Greg’s escape through Leisure Towers leads to some people getting knocked over. No one’s hurt, but the ensuing story grows into epic proportions through various retellings. In Greg’s hand-drawn illustrations later, we see him fight and taunt security guards and launch a scooter through a window.
Several people deal with some physicality at Rodrick’s party, too: One falls off a skateboard, for instance. Another has a speaker fall on him. A picture falls on a third. Someone trips. Rodrick thwaps Greg’s head with a set of drumsticks.
Rodrick and Greg occasionally insult each other, but that’s about it.
While Rodrick’s party is indeed wild, there’s no overt evidence that anyone consumed alcohol during it. (Though, admittedly, Greg finds that most of the partygoers are still there the next morning, all sound asleep in various locales around the house.)
We might as well begin with Rodrick’s party. The Heffley parents never sanctioned such a party, and both Rodrick and Greg lie about having one afterwards, going to great lengths to keep it a secret. During the party, some revelers draw a game of tic-tac-toe on someone’s face. A couch winds up on the roof. The house is a complete disaster, including one plugged-up toilet. (Both Rodrick and Greg seem to retch a bit at the sight of it.) We see a handmade sign hanging on the wall that says, “House rules: There is no rules!”
As for Rodrick’s rules … well, most of them are just as problematic. One sage piece of advice that Rodrick gives is to set the parental expectation bar really, really low, “so that Mom and Dad don’t expect very much of you.” Trips to the bathroom can help you get out of doing dishes. If you do things horribly, there’s a good chance that Mom might get so frustrated that she’ll just do things for you (including homework). Rodrick also advises not to overstuff bags of raked leaves, since Mom pays by the bag. When Greg asks whether all this is actually “cheating,” Rodrick insists that it’s not: He’s just “gaming the system.”
Susan Heffley gives out something she calls “Mom bucks” for chores, which can be exchanged for real dollars (about a 10-to-1 exchange rate, it seems). Rodrick apparently keeps his stash of Mom bucks down his pants (everyone cringes when he reaches down to grab a few), and we later learn that he’s been stealing a ton of extra Mom bucks from his Grandpa’s board game.
Manny, Greg and Rodrick’s little brother, contracts a stomach bug, forcing Susan and Frank to come home early. On the way home, Manny tells them, “I’m gonna blow chunks!” Frank decides to take a dangerous shortcut to get home early. Off camera, we hear Manny apparently vomit.
Rodrick spits milk all over Greg’s pants, making it look as though he wet himself (and necessitating a change of wardrobe). Greg plans to reuse one of Rodrick’s old science projects after he forgets to do one.
There’s some joking about flatulence. Grandpa’s need to use the bathroom frequently becomes a running joke. Senior citizens talk about bingo. Rodrick’s band name, Löded Diper, is similarly loaded with scatological sarcasm. The band also sings a song at the talent show that includes lyrics such as, “Can you smell us now?”
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules is the second of Jeff Kinney’s Wimpy Kid series to get an animated movie on Disney+. It probably won’t be the last. Kinney has said that he hopes all of the books—18 of them—find their way onto the streaming platform.
For families concerned about what their kids are watching, that news is something of a mixed bag.
Rodrick Rules is much like its predecessor. Fairly crass, a bit rude and filled with bathroom humor. And while Susan and Frank Heffley can apparently stand the occasional gas gag from their children, other moms and dads might not find them so … passable.
But for viewers who understand that Greg and Rodrick are in no way role models, Rodrick Rules comes with some reasonably sweet rules of its own. One, families stick together. Two, just because you fight doesn’t mean that you don’t love each other. Number three, we’re always works in progress. We learn from our mistakes.
And when you make as many mistakes as the Heffley kids … well, there’s a lot of learning to do.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.