Well, that’s a little better.

Exactly a year ago, Diary of a Wimpy Kid arrived in theaters, showcasing the most obnoxious, annoying, and mean-spirited kid to hit movie screens since those annoying little snots from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.

Greg Heffley is now entering seventh grade, and I’m happy to say he’s aged well. Sure there are moments where he’s still a little too quick to throw his friends under a bus, but the days of doing everything he can to become World’s Most Hated Middle-Schooler seem to be behind him. As a result, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules is much more watchable.

Now, before we get carried away, this flick still isn’t close to the entertainment level of Rango or Despicable Me, but as family-friendly movies go, it’s not half-bad.

Heffley, as usual, is trying to survive his brother’s abuse, his parents’ embarrassing coddling, and the general mayhem that comes with being a grade-school kid. All the old faces have returned from the first movie (minus Chloe Moretz), and we even have a new character in the form of Holly Hills, Greg’s newfound crush.

Combining plotlines from books two and three of Jeff Kinney’s series, Rodrick Rules focuses on Mom and Dad Heffley’s efforts to bring Greg and Rodrick closer together. There are, of course, the requisite butt, poop, and fart jokes, but this movie, on the whole, feels a lot more wholesome and is a lot easier-to-watch than the first. The best moments come when Greg and his older brother actually work together to get things done, or when they’re just having a fun night in the 7-11, pranking people with some fake vomit.

All of a sudden, everyone is relatively likeable, and the movie benefits tremendously from it.

In his first non-animated feature, director David Bowers (Flushed Away) does a nice job keeping the pace going. The screenplay by Gabe Sachs and Jeff Judah (who also co-wrote the first) is the biggest problem here, though. Trying to squish two books into a 90-minute movie honestly seems to have been too daunting a task. Along with the brotherly bonding storyline, there are no less than a half-dozen subplots, including the upcoming town-wide talent show, Greg’s efforts to retaliate against his classmate Chirag by ignoring him, Rodrick’s while-the-parents-are-away high school party, and Greg and Rowley’s quest to have a video go viral on YouTube. As a result, Rodrick Rules ends up feeling like a series of ten-minute vignettes, with very few stories getting the attention they should.

In the end, of course, none of this matters to your son (or daughter), but it might leave you longing a little for what could have been.

That being said, if you think about what really could have been (had the first movie been a guide), we should all just be thanking our lucky stars.

3/5 stars