Diary of a Wimpy Kid Creator Reveals the True Stories Behind the Animated Film
Kiara Halls
In December, a new Diary of a Wimpy Kid film hits Disney+. Written by series creator Jeff Kinney, the film is an animated adaptation of the very first Wimpy Kid book, released in 2007. Anyone who grew up reading the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series or watched the original live-action film will remember one part of the story that launched a thousand memes and stuck inside the minds of kids everywhere: the cheese touch. In the story, main character Greg Heffley, not long after starting middle school, hears a schoolyard horror story about "the cheese," a years-old piece of swiss cheese that's been baking on the school blacktop. Any poor kid who touches it is burdened with the "cheese touch," and ostracized by their schoolmates.
In a press conference attended by CBR and other outlets, series creator Jeff Kinney, who also wrote the script for the new film, explained the real-world origins of the infamous cheese touch. As it turns out, Greg's cheesy trauma hit a bit close to home for the writer.
"The cheese was a real thing in my life," Kinney explained. "I used to go to a church where there was a piece of cheese on the parking lot underneath the basketball hoop, just like in Diary of a Wimpy Kid. And the kids who went to that school -- I didn't go to the school, but I knew some people who [did] -- they avoided the cheese just like the kids in Diary of a Wimpy Kid did."
Aside from the cheese, there's another infamous part of Wimpy Kid that's surprisingly rooted in reality, and ties into the origins of the series itself. In a scene from the book and film, Greg's best friend Rowley gets a comic strip into the school paper. The strip is a hit, despite every punchline being the same: "zoo-wee-mama!"
As Kinney explained, Rowley's strip was actually his own. "I was in college," he admitted. "I had a long run with my comic strip, and then a friend of mine and I were walking, his name's Tom Madigan. We were walking along, and I was like, 'I'd really like to get back into the paper, but I don't want to have to put in any work.' So, we came up with this idea of 'zoo-wee-mama,' which is the punchline to every strip. [The idea was], if we did this, we wouldn't have to actually create any work for ourselves because the punchline is always written...Unfortunately, 'zoo-wee-mama' didn't get published in the newspaper at the University of Maryland. But it did get published in, of course, Greg's journal."
Jeff Kinney's interest in newspaper comics is much more foundational to Wimpy Kid than just being the inspiration for Rowley's infamous catchphrase. Kinney's struggles to become a newspaper cartoonist actually led to the series as fans know it today, by way of inspiring him to keep a journal.
"I didn't keep [a diary] when I was younger," Kinney said. "I started keeping one when I was in my mid-20s. This was when I was really frustrated... I wanted to become a newspaper cartoonist, but I was playing lots and lots of video games instead. So, I kept a journal to kind of shame myself into working on my comics. What I did was I created this journal with text and then some cartoon illustrations all throughout. I did it for years. Finally, I realized, 'Oh my gosh, this is the answer. This is what I've been looking for. The new format.' My real-life journal actually inspired Diary of a Wimpy Kid."
Diary of a Wimpy Kid has been going strong for nearly a decade and a half, with no signs of slowing down. And it's easy to see why -- Greg Heffley's life story is one that easily resonates, especially considering that its more meme-y aspects, like the cheese touch and "zoo-wee-mama," come from real places of lived experience and lighthearted reflection. It's something that even the youngest or most uninterested reader can pick up on and appreciate -- even if they've never had an ordeal with blacktop swiss themselves.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid (2021) is now available to stream on Disney+.