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A true middle school tale

"Diary of a Wimpy Kid" (PG): Few people have happy memories of middle school, and "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" does a fine, funny job of showing why and in a way that should tickle kids 10 and older.

It's based on Jeff Kinney's delightful, if ungrammatical, 2007 novel (there are four "Wimpy Kid" books now), and, as direct ties to the book, includes a bit of narrative spoken into the camera by the young protagonist and a few line drawings. These are the adventures of first-year middle schooler Greg Heffley (Zachary Gordon)-- a small, prepubescent kid with a bullying older brother Rodrick (Devon Bostick), a mischievous toddler brother Manny (Connor and Owen Fielding, double-cast) and nice but semi-oblivious parents (Rachael Harris and Steve Zahn).

Greg is obsessed with becoming a "class favorite." His best friend Rowley (Robert Capron), who's unhip, generous and sweet-natured, is clueless about all this and doesn't see how badly Greg treats him in his race to the top.

The bottom line: There is a lot of emphasis on gross-out gags (nose-picking; the rotten-cheese subplot) and toilet humor (boys in the school's doorless cubicles; baby brother on his training potty).

Greg and Rowley's classmate Chirag Gupta (Karan Brar) is made to seem silly and stereotyped. There is sexual innuendo regarding the cheesecake photo on the cover of Rodrick's "motorcycle" magazine. Some of the schoolyard taunts are vaguely homophobic, and Rodrick makes fun of Rowley's weight.


"Alice in Wonderland" (PG): It would help kids 10 and older if they had some prior knowledge of Lewis Carroll's "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking-Glass," since Tim Burton's fresh and often miraculous film moves beyond the books, but uses most of the characters.

His Alice (Mia Wasikowska) is a young Victorian woman of 19 with an independent streak. The story recounts her liberation, prompted by a visit to her childhood fantasy land. When an awful twit (Leo Bill) proposes to her at a garden party, Alice dashes off to follow the White Rabbit (voice of Michael Sheen). She falls down the rabbit hole and lands in Underland. (In her barely remembered earlier visits, it was apparently Wonderland.)

The movie is occasionally incomprehensible due to accents or overdone effects. Shown in 3-D, it has extra visual depth, but doesn't throw things at the audience.

The bottom line: The violence, while fantastical, can get fearsome, hence the 10-and-older recommendation. The "frumious Bandersnatch" (from the poem "Jabberwocky") is toothy and vicious and gashes Alice's arm. Its eye gets plucked out with a pin. The Red Queen's "off with his head!" orders lead to a near-execution, but the only head that rolls is that of the Jabberwocky. The fall down the rabbit hole is a bit scary, though Alice's "Drink Me" and "Eat Me" transformations are understated. There is very mild sexual innuendo and a subtle infidelity theme early on.

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