Fox // 2010 // 103 Minutes // Rated G
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // November 22nd, 2010
A little sister goes a long way.
Like many kids between the ages of 6 and 12, I devoured the books of Beverly Cleary during my childhood. I read a lot of books in general, but there was certainly a phase in which I would check out absolutely anything with Cleary's name on it. Her warm, relatable writing style was appealing, as was the fact that many of her novels took place within the same universe: Henry Huggins, Henry and Ribsy, Henry and Beezus, Beezus and Ramona, Ramona the Pest, Ribsy, and so on (the unrelated The Mouse and the Motorcycle and its successors were a lot of fun, too). Though she's written a wide variety of children's books, Cleary's finest creations will always be Ramona, Henry, Beezus, and the other residents of Klickitat Street.
For whatever reason, there haven't been many attempts to adapt Cleary's work for film and television over the years. Until now, the only noteworthy outing was the short-lived 1988 television series Ramona (starring a young Sarah Polley in the title role). While Elizabeth Allen's Ramona and Beezus moves the setting to the present day, the spirit of Cleary's novels mostly remains intact.
In this particular incarnation of the story (cobbled together from several of Cleary's novels and the imaginations of screenwriters Laurie Craig and Nick Pustay), Ramona Quimby (Joey King, Quarantine) is a third-grader blessed with an endless supply of energy and imagination. This occasionally causes her to engage in hyperactive behavior, which is frustrating to her teacher (Sandra Oh, Sideways) and older sister Beezus (Selina Gomez, Another Cinderella Story), but Ramona is a well-intentioned kid. When she learns that her family may soon be facing foreclosure, she puts her imagination to work in the service of finding a way to save the Quimby household.
It's interesting to contemplate the title of this film. Beezus was the leading character in some of Cleary's early novels, but the mischievous Ramona quickly became the most popular member of the Quimby family. The majority of Cleary's later novels place the spotlight on Ramona, and the film does so as well. However, it's apt that the film is entitled Ramona and Beezus rather than simply Ramona. Though the imaginative third-grader gets more screen time than anyone else, it's the moments between Ramona and Beezus that form the heart of the movie.
Early on, the film spends a good deal of time detailing Ramona's amusing antics (her adventures have a tendency to reach chaotic conclusions, including an SUV covered in fresh paint and a kitchen filled with smoke). Beezus remains in the background for much of this portion of the film, alternating between rolling her eyes at Ramona and making eyes at the affable Henry Huggins (Hutch Dano, Zeke and Luther).
Then things start to get tough. Mr. Quimby (John Corbett, The United States of Tara) loses his job, finances get tight, Mr. and Mrs. Quimby (Bridget Moynahan, I, Robot) start having marriage problems and the family cat (the marvelously named Picky-Picky) passes away. As their world starts to close in around them, the sibling bonds hiding beneath the constant bickering start to reveal themselves. While Ramona and Beezus certainly doesn't qualify as weighty drama, some of these moments are particularly moving. A funeral for the cat is handled with just the right measure of sadness and gentle humor, as is a scene in which Beezus asks Ramona to spend the night in her room.
My only complaint with the film is that it suffers from a bit of bloat -- 103 minutes isn't terribly long, but some scenes have a tendency to drag and there's an entire subplot that could have been cut. That would be the story of the romance between Ramona's Aunt Bea (Ginnifer Goodwin, He's Just Not That Into You) and Bea's old flame Hobart (Josh Duhamel, Life as We Know It). It's a bland, predictable subplot that feels like a weak attempt at giving older viewers something of interest (ironically, it's the least interesting element of the movie). Besides, the film already has a considerably more engaging romantic subplot involving Beezus and Henry.
Selina Gomez is the biggest draw for this film's demographic and she handles her role with skill. Still, there's no question that the film belongs to young Joey King. On the basis of this performance, King should be able to get pretty much any role she wants within her age range for the foreseeable future. It's a splendid performance that perfectly captures Ramona's rambunctious innocence. The "grown-up" roles tend to be pretty thankless, but everyone involved handles them dutifully.
The 1080p/2.40:1 hi-def transfer is pretty much what you would expect it to be; a bright and polished presentation of a film with a typically sunny kiddie-flick palette. Vibrant primary colors and sunny atmosphere abounds, and while the image doesn't quite pop off the screen it looks solid enough. Detail is exceptional throughout, particularly background detail. Darker scenes could use better shadow delineation, but there aren't many dark scenes in the movie. The audio is sturdy, with clean dialogue, a low-key array of pop songs and a typical if slightly understated score from Mark Mothersbaugh serving the film's needs quite nicely. The key supplements are some brief featurettes: "Show and Tell Film School" (7 minutes) with director Elizabeth Allen, "A Day in the Life of Joey King" (5 minutes), "My Ramona with Author Beverly Cleary" (4 minutes), and "Fox Movie Channel Presents: Life After Film School" (22 minutes). You also get audition footage of King and Gomez, a gag reel, some deleted scenes and a trailer.
Though not quite on the level of Cleary's best books, Ramona and Beezus ranks pretty well against other recent live-action kid's flicks like Diary of a Wimpy Kid. The young ones will dig it and adults will find it surprisingly tolerable.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 103 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Rated G
* Deleted Scenes
* Audition Footage
* Gag Reel