Wimpy Kid fans, good news: The Diary of a Wimpy Kid series has a new movie, and it’s all about sibling rivalry, pure mischief and adventure, and rock ‘n roll, baby! Now streaming on Disney+, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules centers around Greg and his older brother Rodrick, and what takes place when their parents go out of town for a weekend and leave them alone.
We sat down with best-selling author and creator of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series Jeff Kinney recently, and spoke about the new movie, its accompanying new rock n’ roll song, books, and more.
Way back when, you came up with the brilliant idea of this young, precocious kid who writes illustrated stories about his personal life. Being a cartoonist yourself, is this idea based at all on you? Did you ever write illustrated stories about yourself when you were younger?
KINNEY: You know what's funny, I didn't start writing in a journal until I was about 25 years old, and my journals looked exactly like Diary of a Wimpy Kid. It was handwritten text, of course, and then these cartoon drawings, and that's what made the light bulb go off over my head. I said, “You know what? This might actually work as a fictional story.” And I couldn't believe I didn’t think of that before then.
So you and your wife own a bookstore, and you write all these brilliant stories for children. Were books your escape as a child? And if so, did you have any authors that inspired you to do what you do?
KINNEY: Yeah. “Escape” is a good word. I used to love to read fantasy books by J.R.R. Tolkien and Piers Anthony, and I also liked books that were reflections of my own world, like books by Judy Blume, for example, where I could see myself in the characters. I think it's just so important for kids to have books where they can see themselves. It's very empowering.
I too, loved Judy Blume as a kid. So, Löded Diper.
KINNEY: Yeah, (LAUGHS) sorry about that.
Tell me the story behind the lyrics of this new rock ‘n roll song, “Can You Smell Us Now.”
KINNEY: I wanted to write a song that felt like a rock and roll anthem, and of course, something that only teenage boys would think was cool or funny. So I came up with the lyrics and then hummed them to a producer, who's much more talented than I am. And then a few days later, he came back with a fully produced song, and it's really impressive, the skills that some people bring to their jobs.
Absolutely, I really enjoyed it. So I noticed in last year's movie with Rowley, his childlike behavior started to embarrass Greg as he was getting older and wanted to fit in. Was it important for you not to change Rowley’s personality in this new movie and keep him with that same innocence?
KINNEY: Yeah, I think that is the overall challenge of cartoon characters in general, is that you can't have them change too much because if they change, then they lose some of their magic. It's like a security blanket, 20 years from now. I hope that Greg, if I'm still writing about Greg, is really the same as he is now, because, for instance, [characters] like Donald Duck, you don't ever want him to stop losing his temper. That's part of his DNA, that's part of the fabric of his personality. And so it's hard to write stories that are about evolution and growth and change, and then to have the characters revert to normal. But I think that Rowley's innocence is like his calling card.
Right, and in the end, their friendship was the most important thing. So it was cool to see in this new movie, you didn’t change who he was.
KINNEY: It's funny how you have to kind of reset to zero. It's like a sitcom in that you can have change within the episode, but then the characters have to keep acting like they usually do because people watch these things out of order. And so you can't have it overarching, you have to have each episode be treated like its own thing.
Did you have an older brother that was similar to Rodrick? Where did his story come from?
KINNEY: Yeah, I did have an older brother. He was similar to Rodrick in some ways. He played as the drummer in the basement of our house, and he had a band. His band was called Ground Zero, not Löded Diper, but that was the original inspiration for Rodrick. I think my character's departed from my brother in some ways, but he was the original spark.
Awesome. So should we expect to see more of the Heffleys in the future?
KINNEY: Yeah, definitely. We've got lots more stories to tell. I've got 17 books and counting, so I hope we get to make lots of these into films.
Will you ever divert from the stories that you've already written?
KINNEY: Yeah, maybe one day. You know, once I get to book 20, I'll definitely take a look at the landscape ahead. But for now, a childhood is a big universe, and I've got lots of stories to tell.
Does creating these stories keep you young as well?
KINNEY: I hope it does. I try, that's for sure! Hopefully those books will keep me connected to my childhood.