"Ramona and Beezus" isn't a very apt title for this picture, but I suppose it handles better than "Ramona and Every Damn Person She Knows." A bulky screen adaption of author Beverly Cleary's most enduring character, the picture simply doesn't know when to quit, hitting a few bright spots of charm and harmless tomfoolery before its gets lost, turning a cute family film diversion into a modest endurance test.
Trying to tackle life as a kid, Ramona Quimby (Joey King) embraces her wild side, often losing herself inside her vast imagination. Enjoying a comfortably itchy relationship with sister Beezus (Selena Gomez), Ramona attempts to make herself useful to her father, Bob (John Corbett), and mother, Dorothy (Bridget Moynahan), while navigating the trials of elementary school, taking advice from her beloved Aunt Bea (Ginnifer Goodwin). With financial troubles bearing down on the Quimby household, Ramona starts to panic, hoping to help out with various jobs around the neighborhood, while trusting that the family will unite and prevent the lost of their treasured home. Offering support is neighbor Henry Huggins (Hutch Dano) and nomadic hunk Hobart (Josh Duhamel), who's returned to town to win Bea's hesitant heart.
I'll give the film this much: it sure is timely. Taking a surprisingly modern approach to the material, screenwriters Laurie Craig and Nick Pustay rework Cleary's characterizations to fit a brave new world of foreclosure and unemployment, hoping to strike a more realistic tone to help younger audience m4embers relate to the drama. The upgrade is generous, despite most of the dialogue rooted in gee-willikers banter to preserve the source material, but the picture carries a fresh air of engagement, utilized well by director Elizabeth Allen ("Aquamarine") as she arranges a series of adventures for our teeny hero.
The amount of adventures for Team Quimby is where the script falls into overkill. Pulling from a loaded shelf of Ramona stories, the screenplay elects an episodic interpretation, winding the little girl through a routine of troublemaking and lesson learning. The basic elements are well cared for with gentle comedy and endearing school time humiliations, but the load is too much for Allen, who spends much of the film zipping around from subplot to subplot, attempting to lace together a coherent feature film.
"Ramona and Beezus" becomes easily distracted while shaping a community of characters, confronting Ramona's insecurity, Beezus's teen love life, Bob's artistic aspirations, Bea's high school relationship scars, and Hobart's renewed interest in his former flame. There's also a moneymaking scheme with Ramona auditioning for a peanut butter commercial, and some unsavory business with a dead family pet. Allen's work here resembles a restaurant server balancing a jittery stack of dinner plates on a tray: at first secure and bold, but she eventually loses her concentration and allows the picture to crash noisily through unwanted melodrama mixed with cutesy G-rated hijinks.
Holding up the picture is King, who's exceptional as the precocious youngster; a titan of a tyke who prefers to use "Guts!" as a swear and enjoys turning daily activites into an imagination wonderland, sold well through resourceful special effects. King is a highly trained young actress, and her comfort in front of the camera is a little disconcerting, but she's excellent at capturing the essence of the frizzy, cheeky character, while playing comfortably with Gomez, who makes for a believably beleaguered older sister.
The AVC encoded image (2.35:1 aspect ratio) presentation deals with a film of bright colors and soft focus. Detail is generous with interiors, surveying the domesticated production design and adolescent flourishes. Colors are outstanding, capturing the youthful mood of the feature with bold hues that support the film's sunny disposition. Yellows and greens pop especially hard. Shadow detail is comfortable, supporting the few low-light moments the film arranges, allowing the viewer to enjoy textures on hair and fabrics without losing focus. Skintones are excessively warm, but purposefully so, keeping to the gentle ambiance of the picture.
The 5.1 DTS-HD sound mix is an active creature when involved with juvenile behaviors, most notably Ramona's daydream antics, which supply a comfortable artificial force to the listening event, boosting the mischievous antics. Scoring is solid and always present, dancing around the surrounds with a gentle sway, blended well with hearty atmospherics emerging from horseplay and school environments. Dialogue is always crisp and clean, elevating the chipper family dynamic whenever it can, keeping the emotional movements direct. A French track is also included.
English SDH and Spanish subtitles are offered.
"Deleted Scenes" (6:03) offer a new dream sequence concerning a peanut butter commercial, some wedding day shoe mischief between Ramona and Beezus, a montage of Ramona at work, an open house freak out, a bedtime moment with Bob, and details the magic of a super soaker filled with juice.
"A Day in the Life of Joey King" (4:59) follows the young star around as she's schooled, pampered, and prepares for filming on the Vancouver set. Considering the age of the subject, the featurette is a surprisingly open-eyed look at the moviemaking process, showing the needs of promotion and celebrity along the way.
"Selena and Joey Audition Footage" (1:51) is a short glimpse into the casting process with the two stars.
"Life After Film School with Director Elizabeth Allen" (22:02) is a show for the Fox Movie Channel pitting the filmmaker against three students who pepper the talent with questions on life experience and Hollywood gumption. More promotional than informative, the program is better suited for those interested in Allen's life story.
"Show & Tell Film School" (7:02) spotlights director Elizabeth Allen, who attempts to demystify the process of filmmaking for younger viewers, exploring the preparation and daily business of a movie shoot.
"Gag Reel" (2:50) is a traditional collection of mix-em-ups, with most moments showcasing the dance-happy attitude of the cast.
"My Ramona with Beverly Cleary" (4:14) is a suitably reverential featurette on the author, who talks of her literary inspirations and the legacy of the characters.
And a Theatrical Trailer has been included.
"Ramona and Beezus" is certainly well intentioned and respectful of Cleary's wonderfully written world, but it's a labored picture, eschewing the breeze of simplicity to cram all available chapters into a picture that eventually slows to a maddening crawl. To that, I fling a mighty "Guts!" to the filmmakers.
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