Too bad more family films can't be like "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" — in a word: painless. Possibly even more enjoyable to adults than its target audience of middle-schoolers, the movie never insults the intelligence of either.

Based on the Jeff Kinney's popular series of illustrated novels, "Diary" follows ordinary boy Greg Heffley (Zachary Gordon) as he makes that transition from grade school to middle school. He's not helped by his older brother, Rodrick (Devon Bostick), who basically tells him that invisibility is the only way to survive.

But Greg has ambitions to be the most popular in his grade, so he signs up for several activities, all of which backfire. Bringing him down further — in his mind, at least — is his best friend, Rowley (Robert Capron), a chubby mama's boy who hasn't quite grasped the idea of growing up.

Their friendship threatens to fracture irreparably, not only when Rowley accidentally gains popularity at Greg's expense, but when Greg knowingly betrays his pal. These two have credible chemistry, and although Gordon boasts a far lengthier résumé, Capron delivers the most winning performance. He has real screen presence, like a prepubescent Chris Farley.

"Wimpy Kid" has a great message for kids (and any parents who might be watching) about what's really important, and — surprise! — it's not what others think of you. Some of that is quickly jammed into the closing scenes, as the film shoehorns in a string of short misadventures that have nothing to do with the main plot, but that episodic approach is expected, given the source material.

It's also welcome, since "Wimpy Kid" operates in the knowing, coming-of-age spirit of yesteryear's teen-movie renaissance. The best way to describe it would be as if John Hughes turned his sympathetic sights on junior high, with a dash of the daydream fantasies perpetuated by Savage Steve Holland.

Charming even on a repeat viewing, the DVD includes a healthy portion of extra scenes, including some that I'm guessing were made specifically for Internet promotion. Either way, they're not to be missed. Two words: toenail necklace. —Rod Lott

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