The Beginning of the Diary of a Wimpy Revival

Hello everyone, and yes, I know what you’re thinking: I’m posting again? Well, I don’t know for how long this is going to last, but I do know one thing: too many things have happened in the world of children’s literature since I have gone. Not the least of which include two major events that I never thought would happen: the announcement of an animated reboot of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and the first official announcements regarding an adaptation of Poptropica we’ve gotten in years. As far as I’m concerned, these events are leading to something I thought would never happen: the official end of the Diary of a Wimpy Fall, and the beginning of what I like to call the Diary of a Wimpy Revival.

It’s been a long time since my initial post about the Fall, when I would have never imagined that things for Jeff Kinney’s work would be looking up as much as they are now. I’m eager to finally change the narrative of the Fall to that of a Revival, so let’s explore, collect and compete our way into this ever-changing story of wimpiness!

An Animated Diary of a Wimpy Kid Film!

So, as you know, The Walt Disney Company completed their buyout of 20th Century Fox in March 2019. And as you also know, Disney launched their streaming service, Disney+, in November of that year. I discussed the developments of the Disney-Fox deal in my post about Percy Jackson while it was still in progress, in which I briefly mentioned that the Diary of a Wimpy Kid movies were produced by Fox. This means that when Disney bought out Fox, they acquired not only Percy Jackson, the Fantastic Four and the X-Men, but also, well, Diary of a Wimpy Kid. That means on top of Marvel, the company that I despise now owns the rights to my favorite children’s book series. Yay? (I still don’t have a Disney+ subscription, even as the Marvel Cinematic Universe begins releasing television series directly connected to their films, like WandaVision. Call me bitter, I know.)

Nonetheless, on Disney’s 2020 Investors Day, they announced more content and information about content at once than a human mind can process. As a result, it took some time for me to sift through the pile of announcements, before I discovered the beautiful announcement of an animated Diary of a Wimpy Kid film for Disney+!

Jeff Kinney revealed that he knew about the project beforehand when he tweeted that the “cat was out of the bag”, which makes sense. However, whether or not he is actually involved on the project has yet to be revealed, which I have mixed feelings about. After all, he did write the screenplay to Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Long Haul, which tainted the reputation of Diary of a Wimpy Kid adaptations in the first place. But even if he is involved, his return to form with some of the recent books in the series would make his involvement at least reassuring. Also, we currently don’t have any other names attached to the project, which depending on who else gets involved, could really ensure the quality of this movie.

It’s exactly the vision for the franchise’s future that I imagined in my initial post about the Fall, a computer animated film in the style of The Peanuts Movie and Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie. The differences between the film’s 3D color computer animation and the 2D black and white illustrations of the books will allow 2D animations of the books’ illustrations to be implemented, if the producers decide to do it. This seems likely, given that Kinney’s illustrations were similarly implemented in the live-action films, and continuing the tradition in the animated film would be a nice way to connect the films together.

Looking at the brief moments of animation we got with the announcement, we see the scene in the first book in which Greg tries to make the world’s biggest snowman with Rowley, only to have enough snow to build the bottom snowball, which made Greg change his plan to push it down the hill to make it roll over the Whirley Street Kids. The scene has three takeaways:

  • The film appears to be adapting the first book, which means its a hard reboot, rather than a soft reboot set in the same continuity as the live-action films. This doesn’t quite fit the vision for the franchise’s future that I imagined in my initial post about the Fall, in which I suggested a soft reboot that retcons the Long Haul film out of the continuity, and they adapt Cabin Fever, as was originally planned.
  • The scene was not depicted in the live-action film adaptation of the first book, suggesting that the film will focus on events that the live-action film did not explore, which is a great way to distinguish it from that film.
  • In the book, Greg never ends up trying to push the snowball down the hill. Instead, he kicks the head off a snowman Manny was making, which made Frank destroy the snowball with his shovel as a punishment. This suggests that, while the film will be faithfully adapting events, it will put an original spin on them, which is another great idea.

As for the aesthetic, it is just about everything I imagined it to be. My only nitpicks are the length of Greg’s arms, which appear shorter than they should be in some parts, and his face, which doesn’t seem too expressive for someone who is about to roll down a hill on top of a snowball. I’m surprised nobody brought this up, though maybe that’s the artist part of me talking and there’s nothing to worry about. After all, the earliest footage and images we see for animated projects almost never resemble the final footage, so we’ll have to see.

It will be interesting to see if the film gets a sequel, which all depends on the success of the first film. In my initial post about the Fall, I suggested that sequels to an animated Cabin Fever adaptation should continue the tradition of skipping books in the series, adapting Hard Huck and Old School respectively. Obviously, this film’s potential sequels would have to take a different direction due to being a hard reboot, though Disney should still continue the tradition of skipping books. Rather than another adaption of Rodrick Rules, that book can be skipped for a true Last Straw adaptation, and a potential third film can adapt The Ugly Truth. While I won’t be devastated if this doesn’t happen, it would be nice to see.

Is a Poptropica Adaptation Still in Sight?

In October 2020, the Poptropica Help Blog announced that they had been in contact with Abhi Arya, Poptropica’s current CEO, who agreed to a request to have a Q&A with the blog regarding the future of Poptropica. This of course represented a unprecedented level of transparency from the developers. On top of the PHB team’s own questions, Slanted Fish allowed readers to send in questions as well, and I was excited to contribute. In reality, I wanted to ask Arya all the questions in the email I sent to Sandbox in September 2019, but I didn’t want to be too pushy, so I only asked what I felt were the two most important questions:

What is Jeff Kinney’s involvement with Poptropica these days? What, if any, do plans for a Poptropica movie, TV show, or animated series look like right now?

The Q&A was released in November, in which Arya got help from Natalie Shahmiri, the general manager of Poptropica, to answer some questions. The Q&A revealed quite a bit of interesting new information even notwithstanding the answers to my questions. Here are my three main takeaways:

  • In February 2020, Poptropica revealed in a “State of the Game” post on the Creator’s Blog the full extent of their plan to keep the original game going after Flash shut down in December of that year: to port the game over to Haxe JavaScript, the game’s current engine. The developers will balance their time between porting deleted islands to Haxe and making new islands, though these ports sometimes change the island quests or make them simpler, which I think was completely unnecessary. I understand their reasons for making the islands less hard or confusing for some players, but I guess its my nostalgia that’s making it feel like an if-it-isn’t-broke-don’t-fix-it change to me.
  • With this is mind, the developers are also working on a plan for older players to play the original versions of the deleted islands before the porting is complete, so fans like me don’t have to necessarily play simpler island quests. This is a bit awkward though, since there already is a fan-made way to do this, though official efforts are still welcome. Since the end of Flash, the Old Island Directory created by fans has been changed into instructions on how to access the deleted islands on Flashpoint, an application dedicated to preserving all of the Internet’s flash games. I didn’t find out about Flashpoint until just before Flash shut down, so to see that efforts we in fact being made to preserve all of the Flash games I played in childhood really excited me. Keep in mind that the deleted islands are on a specific version of Flashpoint called Flashpoint Core, and the instructions to download both applications, let alone access the deleted islands on Core, are complicated, especially for Poptropica’s target audience. Flashpoint is also easier to download on Windows, though Mac compatibility efforts are underway.
  • There are actually still plans for Poptropica Worlds, but work on it was merely paused to focus on porting the deleted islands to Haxe. This makes sense, given that Worlds was never outright deleted. The decline in storytelling quality of recent islands such as Reality TV: Wild Safari Island was also attributed to the focus on porting the deleted islands to Haxe. However, Arya also announced the start of a new Create Your Dream Island Contest, and Poptropica has since announced Fairy Tale Island and Goofball Island as the winners of the contest, with more winners expected to be announced. So, perhaps this fan involvement on the newest islands could help rectify the issue of storytelling quality without taking away from the developers’ focus on porting the deleted islands to Haxe.

Finally, here’s what Arya had to say about Kinney’s absence:

He isn’t actively involved at the current moment since most of our efforts have been focused on converting the game from Flash to Haxe instead of new islands. Plus, he’s pretty busy with his book series!

After reading Arya’s statement, I have to admit that it started to make a LOT of sense. Kinney may have created Poptropica, but Kinney is, first and foremost, a children’s book author. He’s a writer and illustrator, and was a Creative Director during his time working at Poptropica, not a computer developer. Given the developers’ clear focus on converting the game to Haxe, it now makes me feel as though I put more responsibility on Kinney for Poptropica’s current state than he deserved, which is why my only disappointment is that we didn’t get this explanation sooner.

And of course, here’s what Arya had to say about a potential Poptropica adaptation:

This is something that we’re always considering. It takes time to make partnerships like this happen and isn’t something we’ve ruled out.

So, it appears that while nothing is in active development, it hasn’t been completely dismissed. While that’s not the most exciting news to hear, it also makes sense, given that Poptropica is clearly in no condition to celebrate its content with an adaptation if it doesn’t even have more than half of it. Also notable is Arya’s statement about partnerships, presumably with movie studios, television networks or even streaming services, suggesting that no production company currently owns the film and television rights to the Poptropica IP.

So, Where Does Kinney’s Work Go From Here?

As you can see, the future of both Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Poptropica is finally looking bright. But as I said earlier, the Revival has only begun, and it is still fragile enough to slip back into a Fall if careful action isn’t taken. Based on these developments, the most ideal path is clear: Kinney can keep focusing on Diary of a Wimpy Kid for as long as the Poptropica developers are working on porting the deleted islands to Haxe. Once this is finished, Kinney can return to Poptropica as Creative Director, and aid in the development of new islands to return the game to its pre-2015 form, bring its popularity to new heights, make partnerships with production companies on the Poptropica film and TV rights and finally give us an adaptation. Whether this is what will happen has yet to be seen, but the fact that it is now likely is a very exciting prospect.

I’m still not the biggest fan of the Diary of an Awesome Friendly Kid series, but I’m not knocking the fans who do. I also know I have to accept my fate and get a Disney+ subscription, especially if Kinney decides to just bunch it all together and give Poptropica to Disney. I can look at it another way, though: I’ll probably make back all the money I ever give to Disney+ from a book deal I aspire to get, and if there is any studio I trust with animation, it’s Disney. One thing is for sure: I couldn’t be more excited for the movie, and I’m eager to see where both Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Poptropica go next.

Until the narrative of this Revival continues, folks.

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