By Emily Hewitt
Diary of a Wimpy Kid Christmas: Cabin Fever, premiering on Disney+ today, is a hilarious and heartfelt animated film that follows the holiday misadventures of Greg Heffley (voiced by Wesley Kimmel). After Greg accidentally damages a snowplow while making a snowman with best friend Rowley Jefferson (voiced by Spencer Howell), he worries he won’t get the new video game console he so desperately wants for Christmas. To make matters worse, he gets snowed in with his family, including his grumpy older brother Rodrick (voiced by Hunter Dillon) and annoying younger brother Manny (voiced by Gracen Newton).
The film is based on the book, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Cabin Fever, from the wildly successful Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney, who also serves as the writer and executive producer of the new film. Lucky for D23, we had a chance to chat with Kinney about the making of the holiday movie. (Spoiler alert: the conversation discusses plot details.)
“I tried to sort of invert these Christmas stories that are usually about the joy of being together, in this story,” Kinney tells D23. “The last place that Greg wants to be is snowed in with his family, but he can’t do anything to get out of it and it gets more and more stressful for him.”
Greg’s mom’s perspective is especially reflected on-screen as she wants everyone to have a picture-perfect holiday together, juxtaposing Greg’s hopes for the holidays. “I think that she represents a kind of optimism—and Greg represents opportunism,” he explains.
Although the film does show a “nightmarish” side of Christmas, Kinney tried not to be too nihilistic. “You really can’t get away with telling a holiday story without it being really heartwarming,” the author says.
Kinney drew inspiration from a childhood experience: “There was a gift that I really coveted one year, and I found it in the linen closet,” he shares. “There is a big twist in the middle of the story where Greg finds the gift that he wasn’t sure he was going to get and that puts a different twist on things—because now [he’s] going to get it as long as [he’s] good, and that kind of thing did happen to me.”
When adapting the book for film, it was especially important for Kinney to touch upon the irony of Greg being bad, although this is the time of year he is really supposed to be good. He also wanted to include Elfriendo, a stuffed animal elf that watches Greg to ensure he is on his best behavior, to add a horror element to the film.
Kinney wrote the original story when he was in his early 30s and knew little about writing for the screen. In the years since—which have included adapting several of his books for film—Kinney says he’s learned how best to tell a story onscreen.
“What was really great about adapting [Diary of a Wimpy Kid Christmas: Cabin Fever] is I can go back to something where I had some good ideas but make it into a really good story,” he admits.
The first book in the Wimpy Kid series, titled Diary of a Wimpy Kid, was published in 2007—and the first film adaptation, of the same title, was released in 2010. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Cabin Fever was published in 2011 and Kinney started developing the film shortly after, though it took 10 years to come to fruition. Around the same time Kinney was asked to create a special for Fox Animation. Thus began a partnership with Fox and then The Walt Disney Company following its acquisition in 2019. In total, Kinney has made seven Diary of a Wimpy Kid films—four live-action films and three animated films.
“I think that Disney films have a certain tonal quality,” Kinney says. “Theirs is a brand that’s really strong and understood by families, and it’s fun for me. It’s a fun challenge.”
He continues, “I think the stories are kind of universal in a way, because they’re the stories of childhood. This story in particular is a whole family story. So, everybody’s experience is reflected on the screen. And I think that the more universal the stories are, the better that they work, not just in the United States, but around the world.”
When making the three animated films based on his books, Kinney wanted to ensure the artistic integrity of the original sources were carried over onto the screen. “We saw the live-action movies where the audience had to make this leap from the page to the actors,” he explains. “[With this film], we wanted to make it feel like Greg’s diaries became real—and I hope that we’ve achieved that.”
For the latest animated Christmas-themed chapter in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, Kinney says he has one particular wish: “The hope of anybody that ever puts together a holiday movie,” he admits, “is that it will become a classic.”