“Ramona and Beezus” is that rarest of summer multiplex enterprises – a G-rated movie for kids and parents that isn’t juiced by computer-generated effects or noisy explosions and isn’t crowded with cutesy animated creatures or comic-book superheroes and villains.
It’s refreshingly human-scale and low-tech. It’s literate and funny. And it displays an embracing empathy for both the frustrations and confusions of childhood and the responsibilities and confusions of adulthood.
Not surprising since it’s drawn from the novels of much-honored, best-selling children’s author Beverly Cleary, a wise and wonderful writer (and former librarian) who in more than 30 books over 50 years has spoken to several generations of loyal readers.
In “Ramona and Beezus,” the first big-screen adaptation of her work, it’s highly likely that grandparents, parents and youngsters in audiences will have come to reading through her characters and stories.
Adroitly adapted from several of Cleary’s popular “Ramona” books and deftly directed by Elizabeth Allen (“Aquamarine”), this tale brings to vivid life the author’s teeming, beloved Klickitat Street in suburban Portland, Oregon. There, the Quimby family resides in cozy if chaotic domesticity. Loving parents Robert and Dorothy (John Corbett and Bridget Moynahan) patiently ride herd over big sister Beezus (Disney star Selena Gomez), cooing baby Roberta, lay-around cat Picky-Picky and the pesky, imaginative, non-conformist Ramona (newcomer Joey King – no relation to the reviewer).
The film unfolds in overlapping episodes, mostly concerning 9-year-old Ramona’s fumbled efforts to fit in at school and get along with her straight-A big sister. Ramona refuses to color between the lines, makes up words like “terrifical,” is always getting into scrapes and tests the last nerve of her long-suffering teacher Mrs. Meacham (Sandra Oh).
While there are lots of comic antics concerning Ramona and her best pal Henry Huggins (Hutch Dano), the film also pays smart attention to the concerns of grown-ups around her. When Dad loses his job and Mom goes back to work, the familiar old house on Klickitat faces foreclosure. And when roguish, globe-trotting photographer Hobart (Josh Duhamel) returns home, he clearly has designs to lure away Ramona’s warmly supportive Aunt Bea (Ginnifer Goodwin) to the wilds of Alaska, even though he cruelly jilted her after high school.
Much ruminating on problems takes place in Ramona’s florid imagination, which the filmmakers smartly depict in tactile, child-like special effects employing miniatures, models, toys and simple blue-screen techniques that neatly support the film’s overall storybook quality.
Performances are appealing and spot-on throughout. Duhamel and Goodwin are especially engaging as the coyly sparking adults. The multi-talented Gomez is largely cast as a goody-two-shoes foil to Ramona’s kiddie-punk rebel, but she handles the role with uncommon grace and self-possession. The bright-eyed King in her first starring role is a dynamo of cuteness and precociousness, with just the right touch of tartness.
In the burgeoning, high-tech library of summer movies, “Ramona and Beezus’ is a literate oasis of good old-fashioned storytelling. As they say in the publishing business, it’s a good read.
- Dennis King
“Ramona and Beezus”
Starring: Joey King, Selena Gomez, John Corbett, Bridget Moynahan, Josh Duhamel