The problem with most family-oriented films is that they treat children like consumers, not competent, thinking beings. They believe that all aspects of cinema must be spoon-fed to them in a Pixie Stick spiked frenzy, elements like pacing and characterization left for more snooty, mature movies. This gets even more disturbing when you consider how focused and micromanaged these movies really are. Studios aim for specific elements of the various demos while determining what will and will not have the schoolyard recess reporters gossiping like goons. In the case of this past popcorn season's Judy Moody and the NOT Bummer Summer, we have a ditzy dish best served to pre-pubescent girls. It's full of glitter and filly tutus, posters adorned with dozens of stickers and an adult character whose as amiably arrested as the non-adolescents she's in charge of. It's loud, lumbering, and legitimately stupid at times. It's also Exhibit A in the ongoing trial of crappy kid vid.
Judy Moody (newcomer Jordana Beatty) is a typical little girl growing up in the stereotypical cinematic situation: loving dad (Kristoffer Winters), stern but supportive mother (Janet Varney), irritating little brother nicknamed Stink (Paris Mosteller) and a collection of pals she labels the TP (stands for "Toad Pee") Club. With the end of school rapidly approaching, our heroine hopes her buddies, Rocky (Garrett Ryan), Frank (Preston Bailey), and Amy (Taylor Hender) can plan out the best vacation ever! This will including having a contest, with each participant collecting "thrill points" for the various amazing adventures they have. Stink, on the other hand, just wants to hunt for Bigfoot. Unfortunately, clown camp and a trip to Borneo take two of her 'bffs' away, leaving Judy to fret over the possibility of a 'bummer' Summer. But when Judy's eccentric Aunt Opal (Heather Graham) shows up to babysit, she learns a valuable lesson in sundrenched fun - Summer doesn't owe you a good time. Summer is what you make it.
Judy Moody and the NOT Bummer Summer is an experience akin to having your baby sister broadcast her cross-gender sleepover to the rest of the world via a 100 watt, 120 decibel amplifier. It's that feeling you get right before the brain freeze hits, the acknowledgement of oncoming pain while the overly sweet flavor of your favorite slushy beverage lingers on your pallet. It's obvious and also inert, struggling to satisfy the fans of the book series while breaking out of the staid adaptation approach. Like the obsession with talentless boy bands or the need to wear hundreds of rubber band bracelets shaped like various objects, this is a jerryrigged gender mystery, a "how can they like this?" head scratcher in a realm where such a question seems to come up a lot. With a lead whose likable if a tad irritating and an universe where anything goes...and is defiantly defended, the whole thing is chaos as comfort. No one simply settles down and tries to figure things out within a reasonable frame of reference. Instead, people and possessions fly around like objects in a tornado's twisted vortex.
Of course, the kids won't care about any of this. They will see Judy as just like them and sympathize with her plight as both a force of nature and a part of her pathetic family. Of course, this doesn't mean boys will have much to champion. Indeed, Judy Moody and the NOT Bummer Summer is the first family effort in a long time that thinks young males have cooties and should be left out of the enjoyment discussion completely. This may be the first pre-chick flick ever! Sure, our lead has boy buddies and her brother is a rough and tumble pile of trouble, but nothing else here will get the immature testosterone of said sector going. When Sasquatch and its existence is the sole bow to snips and snails and puppy dog tails, you know the guys are in for the long haul. Even more disturbing is the lack of anything aimed at adults. Granted, maturity is not this movie's strong suit, but to simply give up and admit that this is latest in a long line of electronic babysitters is far too cynical.
For his part, director John Schultz (The Honeymooners, Aliens in the Attic) channels the ridiculous belief that rapid fire editing and incredibly loud noises make for outrageous PG humor. There isn't slapstick here so much as supposedly comic physical abuse. Everything - except the supporting performances - is geared toward a level of hyperactivity so insane that not even an industrial size dose of Ritalin could cure it. As for the lead, Ms. Beatty is perfectly fine. She's not a glamour girl (which is a good thing) but can come across as a tad desperate in her performance. Also adequate is the Roller Girl herself, Heather Graham. A bit longer in the tooth but still capable of turning heads, she's decent as the relative ever kid wishes they had. Everyone else, from Stink to the various members of the TP Club are cookie cutter tykes taken directly from a late '80s Central Casting catalog. They look the part...and that's about it. If they were hoping to hit a home run and start an entire Judy Moody franchise, this opening salvo should stall such plans. This may not have been a bummer Summer for our bubbly red-headed lead, but for anyone forced to sit through it, it certainly is/was.
Whoa! One's reaction to the primary color cacophony of this Blu-ray release will indeed be akin to Neo discovering the truth about The Matrix. The 1080p/AVC-encoded 1.85:1 transfer literally assaults the rods and cones in your eyes with its Kool-Aid hued designs. Yellows leak like liquid lemons and blues bubble like a Ty-D Bol infused toilet. Everything is so...'there' that it's hard to find any flaws - visually, that is. Luckily, such a saturated approach does not spoil the rest of the optical elements. Contrasts are crisp and clean while details are easily discovered. Overall, this is a very good format upgrade. Just prepare to have at least one of your senses assaulted and you'll be all right.
There is nothing really special about the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mix. It offers up decent dialogue separation and a nice level of background ambience. Even when all Hell is breaking loose, the conversations don't get completely lost in the maelstrom. On the other hand, the score is so slight and syrupy that it threatens to give one diabetes. Add in the typical pre-teen Emo tracks and the nonstop desire to constantly bombard the viewer with any and all manner of sensory overload and you've got an excuse for bad SAT scores in the making.
There is a lot of added content on this blu-ray release...and a pop quiz on the various elements included. No, really. The "Join the Toad Pee Club" feature actually requires you to watch all the other bonuses and answer questions about it. There is also a decent Making-of, a collection of deleted scenes, an EPK explaining the whole "Judy Moody" thing, a collection of cast video diary entries, a music video, a trailer, and an activity book. Not bad for a less than satisfactory film.
Giving movies like this to critics is rather pointless. It's like sitting a huge ice cream sundae in front of a child and then telling them to wait while the cynical, jaded adult judges its sweetness. Judy Moody and the NOT Bummer Summer really wasn't made for you, so the argument over a final score is rather moot. As mainstream entertainment, it probably deserves a Skip It - all gratuitous Urkel aside. Kids will likely complain and offer something similar to Recommended. Knowing that parents and guardians everywhere need an 85 minute respite from their wee ones now and again, we will offer up a difference splitting Rent It. It's not an atrocity, but there are bunches of better films for the entire family out there. One day, movies won't gear their givens to one microscopic section of the whole. Until then, Judy Moody and the NOT Bummer Summer signals the continuing decline of the genre.
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