Everybody loves Beezus more than they love Judge Erich Asperschlager.
Our review of Ramona And Beezus (Blu-Ray), published November 22nd, 2010, is also available.
A little sister goes a long way.
Since Beverly Cleary published her first novel about Ramona Quimby in 1955, reading them has been as much a rite of passage for kids as hiding peas in your napkin, or rapping about how parents just don't understand. Cleary wrote the seventh book in the series in 1984, a few years before I joined her unofficial fan club. Now, I'm a father of a little girl I hope will grow up to enjoy Ramona Quimby for herself, both in books and in movie form, thanks to director Elizabeth Allen's charming adaptation of the series, Ramona and Beezus.
Facts of the Case
Ramona Quimby (Joey King, Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs), age 9 and three months in this movie, is an energetic child whose imagination gets her in trouble in school, at home, and with her older sister, Beezus (Selena Gomez, Wizards of Waverly Place)—so nicknamed because a baby Ramona couldn't pronounce her real name, Beatrice. Things get worse when their father (John Corbett, United States of Tara) is laid off and has problems finding a new job. Determined to save her family and their house Ramona sets in motion a series of plans to raise money, all the while looking out for the emotional welfare of her cool Aunt Bea (Ginnifer Goodwin, Big Love), whose ex-high school sweetheart, Hobart (Josh Duhamel, When in Rome) is back in town and looking to rekindle their fizzled romance.
"Precocious Kid Movie" might as well be its own sub-genre, along with RomCom, Biopic, and The (Blank) Who Saved Christmas. It seems like Hollywood is always running a surplus of this kind of family fare, and most of them are pretty terrible. So are movies based on books, which is why Ramona and Beezus is doubly surprising.
Screenwriters Laurie Craid and Nick Pustay draw on storylines and characters from throughout Cleary's Ramona series, giving the movie a solid foundation in its source material. They weren't afraid, though, to change and rearrange things to fit the screen. To start, they flip-flopped the name of Cleary's novel Beezus and Ramona, switching the focus from big sister to little. They also fudged Ramona's age (she was only 4 in that book). Both changes work well for the movie. Joey King's take on the accident-prone youngster is the key to Ramona and Beezus's success, and she steals every scene. She's spunky without being annoying, and earnest without trying too hard. She is as believable a kid who falls through ceilings and smashes raw egg in her hair as this movie needs her to be.
One reason King does so well is because she's playing opposite actors who are just as believable as she is. Disney Channel star Selena Gomez plays Beezus with the perfect balance of teenage insecurity and righteous big sister anger—both of which come up in her crush on best friend Henry Huggins (Hutch Dano, Zeke and Luther). The two title characters' love-hate relationship should ring true with anyone who's had a younger or older sibling. As the elder Quimbys, John Corbett and Bridget Moynahan (Coyote Ugly) bring more to the movie than parents in these kind of movies usually do—that is, they're more than props who occasionally cluck their tongues. Corbett in particular brings a fatherly sweetness to his relationship with Ramona that brought at least a couple lumps in my throat. Button-cute Ginnifer Goodwin gets to play fun Aunt Bea, whose romantic entanglement with Josh Duhamel's Hobart (uncle of Ramona's best friend), provides one of the "adult" storylines we see through Ramona's eyes.
Ramona and Beezus's other big strength is its screenplay, which deals honestly with some of life's harsher realities—things like losing a job, the death of a pet, and heartbreak—while at the same time capturing just how exciting, dramatic, and totally unfair everything is when you're a child. At times, the movie feels like a collection of vignettes taken from the books, but they add up to an effective story about what happens when kid and adult problems collide. The bittersweet moments ring so true that the movie is weakest when it reaches its final (and overlong) feel-good final act.
Even with the predictable ending, Ramona and Beezus stands as one of the better family films of late. Besides the strong performances and resonant screenplay, it brings Ramona's daydreams to life in visually interesting ways. Using stylized animation, we see the world through her eyes. A recess jungle gym becomes a dangerous canyon bridge; the joy of jumping on the bed in your very own room becomes a launch pad into the outer reaches of space; and the terror of overhearing your father talking about the bank "taking the house" becomes a vision of a soulless crane literally carrying off the Quimby house.
Although the screener disc I watched had lots of artifacting and visual roughness, Ramona and Beezus is a fine-looking film (and will likely look even better on the final retail disc). Color and skin tones are natural, saving a saturated palette for the fantasy sequences. The 5.1 surround track is equally satisfying, getting the dialogue, sound effects, and pop music soundtrack from the speakers to your ears efficiently and clearly.
Bonus features include a goofy gag reel for the youngest fans, a collection of four deleted scenes, and a look back at the book series with Beverly Cleary herself. The longest and most interesting extra is "Show and Tell Film School" with director Elizabeth Allen. Geared toward slightly older kids, it's a simplified explanation of how films get made, with tips for those who want to try it at home.
Although it runs a bit too long, and wraps things up a little too neatly, Ramona and Beezus is a "terrifical" family film that stays true to its source material while creating something that stands on its own.
Not Quimby! Er…I mean, not guilty!
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