Interviews Movies

Jeff Kinney Was Excited to Add a Horror Element to Diary of a Wimpy Kid Christmas: Cabin Fever

There’s nothing like the holidays. Time with your family and the joys of presents. It just might be the reason why kids suddenly start behaving as they make their list and send their letters to Santa.

But just when everything is going to plan, the unexpected has an interesting ability to get in the way. For Greg Heffley (who suddenly is on his best behavior), the winter holidays are becoming especially stressful. After accidentally damaging a snowplow while making a snowman with best friend Rowley Jefferson (Spencer Howell), Greg (Wesley Kimmel) worries his mother (Erica Cerra), and his father (Chris Diamantopoulos) won’t give him the 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 (Hunter Dillon) and annoying younger brother Manny (Gracen Newton). With limited resources, if the Wimpy Kid himself can’t fix the machine in time, his Christmas plans will be ruined, leaving him with yet another sour taste in his mouth during a time when kids are supposed to be happy.

In celebration of Diary of a Wimpy Kid Christmas: Cabin Fever’s hilarious and heartfelt holiday tale centered around everyone’s favorite disaster-prone middle school student, The Koalition spoke to creator, writer and producer Jeff Kinney to learn more about his latest animated movie based on his wildly successful book series, the importance of the film’s message, adding horror to a Christmas story, Greg and Rowley’s friendship and more.

While Cabin Fever is the seventh installment in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid film series, it is the first to introduce a (kids friendly) horror element to the franchise in the form of a creepy doll name Elfrendo, ‘Santa’s important scout’ who reports directly to the big man himself. Meant to keep track of how Greg behaves and make his behavior better, Greg is afraid of this doll because he thinks that it might actually send information to Santa. With Elfrendo watching Greg’s every move, it raises the stake for Greg and also adds a horror element to the story Kinney always wanted to tackle.

“I wanted to tell a different kind of holiday story. Holiday stories usually are very heartwarming, and I wanted to tell a story [that’s] kind of a scary story. It’s bit of a thriller. Greg gets in trouble during the holidays, and he needs to cover it up. It is a holiday story but it’s a very Wimpy Kid holiday story. It was a fun challenge to embark on. Different families have different holiday traditions.” With Elfrendo always watching, “There’s The Elf on the Shelf [element] I wanted to do. [It’s] an inverted version of that where the elf is a little bit scary. [You] don’t know quite if it’s alive or not and that adds an element of horror to the story which amplifies Greg’s stress.”

Originally written in 2011, the comic received critical acclaim even being nominated for a 2012 Harvey Award for a “Special Award for Humor in Comics.” For Kinney, “it was led with an idea. A spark which is, ‘What if you really needed to be good for Christmas or in the runup to Christmas and then you were accidentally bad?’ It’s that inversion. Also, the idea of usually in a holiday movie the message is, you want to be you know snowed in with your family. Basically, you want to be together in a force sort of way and so here I’m having it be a stressful element. The idea [or] spark [behind my] was experiencing a lot of stress during the holidays. Christmas could be stressful for kids.”

(L-R): Manny (voiced by Gracen Newton), Frank Heffley (voiced by Chris Diamantopoulos), Susan (voiced by Erica Cerra), Greg (voiced by Wesley Kimmel) and Rodrick (voiced by Hunter Dillon) in Disney’s DIARY OF A WIMPY KID CHRISTMAS: CABIN FEVER, exclusively on Disney+. © 2023 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

“When I wrote [the] Cabin Fever [comic]. I was probably 30 years old. I’ve grown a lot as a person. I’ve grown a lot as a writer. [As an adult], I wanted to tell the right kind of story and what the Disney Plus movies are allowing me to do is to go back to those Original Stories I wrote when I was a much younger person and to kind of perfect them and tell the ultimate version of those stories right.”

Like the previous Wimpy Kid adaptations, Cabin Fever offers the classic antics of the Heffleys, including Greg and his brother Rodrick getting on each other’s nerves, as Rodrick teases his brother about his behavior and very suspicious about Greg’s secretive behavior. Does Greg have something to hide? What will Roderick do if he learns why Greg is so anxious?

Inspired by Kinney’s own family, Kinney feels a special kinship to Rodrick. “[Rodrick] is inspired by my older brother who was also a drummer, and he had a band. I took my own family members and put them through the fiction blender in a way and kind of amplified their comic qualities. It started with the Kinneys but it’s become the Heffleys.”

(L-R): Rowley (voiced by Spencer Howell) and Greg (voiced by Wesley Kimmel) in Disney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid Christmas: Cabin Fever, exclusively on Disney+. © 2023 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

Also returning are the dynamic duo of Greg and Rowley, who continue to prove the best relationships are the hardest to understand. Greg’s best friend, he accompanies Greg on his misadventures and getting roped into his schemes, though he and Greg are at odds, this time they can both face trouble for damaging the snowplow. Can Rowley’s good heart and innocence shine through? Or will Cabin Fever see a different side to Rowley where the voice of reason starts changing his tune?

Diary of a Wimpy Kid Christmas: Cabin Fever allowed for Kinney to continue to play with Greg and Rowley’s difference perspectives while also placing them in new situations to problem solve. This time, they must work together and listen to each other to help each other out of this predicament.

“I just love writing dialogue between Greg and Rowley because [with] those characters I can hear their voices in my head. I love Rowley’s innocence even when he’s under a lot of stress, he still is really a child and that frustrates Greg. I like that there there’s a lot of humor that comes from their interactions right. [In this movie], they’re really in this one together. They’re both in trouble together and they both have different motives. I don’t know what makes a relationship like that work. Why would a Greg want to be with Rowley and why would Rowley want to be with Greg? It’s funny because we see these relationships in life and they’re very curious but somehow, sometimes they work.”

To learn more about Diary of a Wimpy Kid Christmas: Cabin Fever, check out our full interview in the video below.

Cabin Fever premieres on Disney+ on December 8th.

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