Hey Poptropicans—this is a guest post by Tyler Naimoli, an aspiring children’s book author and current illustration/journalism and design college student. The post originally appeared on his blog as The Diary of a Wimpy Fall, and How It Can Be Stopped!, and a slightly condensed version focusing more on the Poptropica aspects of his post are shared below. Enjoy!
In his opinion piece, Tyler begins by sharing about how much he loved Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid books as a kid. You can read more in the original, but we’ll pick up from here…
I read the online version of the books on Funbrain.com that predated the original publication, while also clicking on the site’s shortcut to play a fantastic virtual world named Poptropica…
Yes, to a lot of you, that’s a thing.
Heard of it? Brings back memories?
I will never forget the day I learned on the Diary of a Wimpy Kid website that Jeff Kinney also developed Poptropica as well. After several years of playing the game I loved (it even inspired me to make my own virtual world), the discovery of my role model having made it was almost magical to me.
I will never forget the initial announcement of a Diary of a Wimpy Kid film adaptation, and my countdown to the film and its sequels (and the curious decision to title the third film as the fourth book). I will never forget the initial announcement of the Parade balloon, and host Al Roker discussing in awe the achievements of the Boy Who Made Wimps Cool for the first time. I will never forget the day Jeff Kinney came to my local Barnes and Noble for a book singing of Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul years later, where I (failingly) suggested to intern for him (which I didn’t really mind).
But then came the (soft) reboot to the films, adapting that very same book Kinney signed for me. Knowing how often Kinney was asked in interviews to continue the films, and the decent quality of the previous films up to that point, I was confident that my role model would do it again—deliver a great film.
And then he didn’t.
At this point, Tyler comments on his disappointment of the later developments of the Wimpy Kid series, citing a critical fanbase, the casting of the new Rodrick, and cheap overuse of bathroom humor in “The Long Haul” (film). Picking up again…
A 20% rating on Rotten Tomatoes later, and I found myself trying to answer what I feared would end up becoming one of life’s age-old questions: what the heck happened? I didn’t even end up seeing the movie (which greatly shocked my parents, and I told them everything I’m telling you now). No, I thought to myself that I was actually doing a favor to Kinney in not seeing this film. I couldn’t support this disservice to the original work and what made this franchise so great.
I did read the reviews and the plot, and that’s all I will ever need. Before I continue, I shall quote some insightful words from the Poptropica Help Blog, taken from an interview with Poptropica Creator Mitch Krpata, which I will go back to later:
Mitch contends that there are many challenges to writing children’s media, as well as joys that make it easier. Although he’s writing for a child audience, he doesn’t feel like he’s “writing down” to them, affirming that kids are earnest and open to big ideas.
Based on what I read about the movie, it’s pretty clear Kinney forgot these most important words when it comes to children’s entertainment: that there is more to a story than just the visuals and the humor. There’s the story and the heart, the care that is being put into the product and letting the fans know that this is ultimately what you are doing this for, for them.
To me, nothing scares me more than writing a story that has even the least bit of a questionable plot point, let alone a story that is downright bad, and this is why I now love Krpata (I already quite liked him before). Dare I bring it back up again, but how could you make Susan Heffley such an unlikeable mother? How could you make Rodrick’s lack of intelligence the only aspect of his character? How could you make so many references to YouTube, Snapchat and memes for no other purpose than to appear “relevant” to today’s generation, when children are already aware of all that?
How could you inject the film with more of something as cheap as bathroom humor than anything else (and yes, the books do have this, but nowhere near the level seen in this movie) when Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie, a film adaptation of a book series that has done it so much better, was set to come out the next month??? I’ll say it once, I don’t have to say it a million times: unless you’re Dav Pilkey, don’t try bathroom humor. Just… don’t. It’s the single biggest writing “technique” that is made to disservice children’s entertainment.
Then, Tyler goes on to talk about how Jeff Kinney has remained quiet about the future of Wimpy Kid films, his personal disappointment with the later books, and the lack of acknowledgement for Wimpy Kid’s 10th birthday at the past Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade when the Wimpy Kid balloon took off. Picking up again…
Like I said earlier, I found myself trying to answer what I feared would end up becoming one of life’s age-old questions: what’s going on? But after much investigation, I finally have the answer.
So…what is going on?
Too Much Wimp, Too Little Pop.
It’s increasingly looking quite obvious what’s going on here. Now that I’ve discussed the Diary of a Wimpy Kid side of things, it’s time that I talk about the other intellectual property Kinney is famously (or is he?) known for: Poptropica.
It’s no secret that Kinney has devoted more of his time to Diary of a Wimpy Kid than Poptropica for much of the game’s history, though it’s also no secret that he has shown in the past how to balance things out. I remember when I was a kid, Poptropica was practically producing islands every month.
Enter Poptropica Worlds, a successor to the original game in the franchise’s effort to stay afloat with changing times, and you have a completely new story. Despite the game being around for quite some time (two-thirds of a year now), as of this writing the only islands are Crisis Caverns and a remastered 24 Carrot.
Crisis Caverns was the new island, and—what a surprise—fans complained about the lack of a storyline. With Flash, the engine the original game was built on, ending by 2020, it makes all the more sense for this transition to happen, but at the rate things are being produced for Worlds (there are over 50 islands in the original game, take that for what you will), you can see the problem.
Now, imagine three new likely-not-very-good Wimpy Kid books also released by then, and a possible sequel film adaptation of The Getaway book freshly minted on DVD, and the future looks grim for Kinney’s empire.
Yet the solution to stop this “Diary of a Wimpy Fall” is easy, because Mitch Krpata already suggested the answer and possibly didn’t even know it. Quoting from the interview coverage from the Poptropica Help Blog again:
The hosts ask if there are any Star Wars references in the Poptropica books, to which Mitch points to Galactic Hot Dogs, where Max Brallier “tries to write Star Wars for kids.” GHD is also owned by StoryArc Media, whose biggest mistake, he says, is probably letting Jeff Kinney keep the rights to Wimpy Kid, which is worth far more than the entire company now.
In case you don’t know, Poptropica is, as of this writing, owned by a company called StoryArc Media, which itself is affiliated with a company called Sandbox Networks. Sandbox acquired the rights to StoryArc in 2015, which at the time was called the Family Education Network under Pearson PLC. But try to digest this next statement from the PHB:
Jeff retained the rights to Wimpy Kid and became wealthy overnight, but continued his day job on Poptropica, which Mitch says is more than you’d expect for someone who’d built this empire. Poptropica and Wimpy Kid are both very important to him, but at this point, he’s finally much more focused on Wimpy Kid than Poptropica.
And then there’s this:
As far as numbers go, Mitch reports that there are well over 500 million avatars created, and over 100 million players. However, he also says the game is “definitely not as cool now as it was before.” If you go to a school now and ask, “who knows Poptropica?” you might get about a dozen or so hands raised. But at the peak of Poptropica’s popularity, in 2010, every kid would be raising their hand – it was, for that while, the biggest site in the world for kids.
But wait, what about this?
However, he says, kids are fickle, and they will move on to the next thing. There have been so many competing games in the past ten years, so the Poptropica team used to worry about competing with Neopets, then Club Penguin, and now Animal Jam. Still, if you keep giving them something to come back to, they might stick around.
You don’t say.
It’s pretty clear what’s happening: Jeff Kinney is focusing too much on Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and not enough on Poptropica. And in doing so, he is oversaturating the Wimpy Kid brand to the point of exhaustion, and Poptropica isn’t getting enough of his love. Why make something of a reboot to the previous Diary of a Wimpy Kid movies that no one wanted and ultimately failed to deliver, when you could make a Poptropica movie???
Now, I would like to discuss other children’s book authors. Lincoln Peirce, writer of the Big Nate comic strip, was pretty intent on ending the books after the eighth book, even though it was the property’s adaptation into a Poptropica island that got the strip popular enough to become a book series in the first place.
Mitch Krpata himself ended the fantastic Poptropica graphic novels (yes, Kinney didn’t write them, I know) after the fourth. Heck, even Beverly Clearly didn’t want Ramona Quimby to become a teenager, famously stating her fear of the teenage years in a 1995 interview: “I think writers need to know when to retire.” And note how I started seeing the decline in Diary of a Wimpy Kid’s quality at the 11th book, when Kinney started recycling book cover colors.
Not the end of my tears, though!
I’m not saying that Kinney should quit, though. What I am saying is that Kinney should take a break. I find it intriguing that after all these years, he is still able to put these books out yearly exactly to the first Tuesday of November and keep them exactly at 224 pages, but now I’m questioning exactly how subconscious of a decision this has become on his part. (Editor’s note: The exactness of the pattern is likely planned by the publishers, but he could still have made room for creativity within those pages.) Is this, among other things, the reasons for the sudden lack of a grasp to his storytelling?
But the best part about this whole situation is this: unlike other authors who could end up in this predicament, Kinney doesn’t have to take a break from his career entirely. What makes him notably stand out from other children’s book authors is that he created another piece of intellectual property in the Poptropica franchise, which is literally crying out to him to come back!
While working on Poptropica, Kinney can sort things out with himself on Diary of a Wimpy Kid. While on his break, he can try to figure out what is going on with the decline in quality and try to fix it, so that when he does go back to Diary of a Wimpy Kid, he becomes the Jeff Kinney that we all know and love again, and in doing so, both Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Poptropica could become great again.
I already have something of a solution, and I’m not alone on this: an animated Diary of a Wimpy Kid film in the style of The Peanuts Movie and Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie. Both films are not only highly enjoyable, but the differences between the animation style and the illustrations of the source material of both films allowed animations of the original illustrations to be implemented. This would allow this hypothetical Wimpy Kid film to still creatively use Kinney’s illustrations in the same way the live-action films did.
Tyler then talks a little bit about which of the Wimpy Kid books he thinks should be adapted into an animated film, and compares the situation with other children’s writers choosing not to make their works into live-action films. Picking up again…
I don’t say any of this because the sudden decline in the quality of Kinney’s work has suddenly given me an undying urge to hate him; I say this out of my love for him. Jeff Kinney was a major influence on my decision to become a children’s book author, and I only wish the best for him. His relatability to the reality of our lives has impacted so many people, including myself, and I wish to see that continue for many years to come.
And perhaps it’s because I’m dying to see a Poptropica movie (I’m even writing a script, which will be for another post), but Krpata did say this toward the end of that Poptropica Help Blog post:
He’s asked if there is a movie on the way, and replies with, “I hope so! We still have a dream to get an animated series on the way, so we’ll see what happens.”
Get it going, Kinney. 😉
Hope you enjoyed this guest post by Tyler Naimoli! If you did, be sure to check out his website, Naimoli Children’s Books Blog, where he discusses children’s media and shares his own work in that area.
The Poptropica Help Blog welcomes interesting Poptropica insights from anyone in the Poptropica community with thoughts to share. You can find some tips and guidelines on our Write for the PHB page. We also encourage sharing blog posts on the PHC.
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