Ramona and Beezus ***½
“The beloved classic series by Beverly Cleary is coming to the big screen” – says the voiceover guy in the trailer for ‘Ramona and Beezus. Beloved, eh? If you’re wondering why you’ve never heard of the series – which began with the 1955 children’s novel Beezus and Ramona (notice that the title has been reversed for the film release due to the fact that Ramona was originally a secondary character to her sister but in the film is given a much more substantial role, much like in the 1988 TV series based on the books which was simply called Ramona) by the aforementioned author and consists of eight volumes, which the film adaptation jumps through while focusing mainly on the seventh – it is likely because it is in America that is a beloved, not so much here in the UK, and based on the underwhelming box office performance of this film in the states, perhaps it isn’t so beloved there either, not anymore at least. Perhaps America’s kids aren’t that familiar with it either. It’s a real shame as well because this is the kind of film that kids really should be seeing instead of the usual rubbish that they so often rush out for. After selling out with this year’s dire Tooth Fairy, it seems that family entertainment production company Walden Media are back doing what they do best – making magical family movies that have as much substance as they do flash and that are far more than just passing diversions, rather being the kind of family films that are ageless. With Elizabeth Allen, director of 2006’s magical Aquamarine, at the helm and a very good cast ensemble, ‘Ramona and Beezus’ really does go a long way to make up for Walden’s previous transgression, even if it does fall short of perfection.
Ramona Quimby (Joey King) keeps everyone on their toes with her wild antics. She spends her days roaming through fantasy worlds from one adventure to the next. Things don’t always go to plan, though, and somehow she constantly finds herself causing mayhem and in trouble with her adoring parents Dorothy (Bridget Moynahan) and Robert (John Corbett) or her teacher Mrs. Meacham (Sandra Oh). The only people who seem to truly appreciate Ramona’s wondrous imagination are her fun Aunt Bea (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Hobart (Josh Duhamel), an old flame of Bea’s looking to reconcile with her and whose car ends up in a bit of a mess when an attempted good deed by Ramona goes very wrong. Her exasperated older sister Beezus (Selena Gomez) would rather concentrate on her books and love life than on her little sister’s exhausting frolics. But when their house comes under threat and their world is turned on its head together the sisters must find a way to get along together. Ramona is a little girl with a big heart and an even bigger imagination, and she puts her mind to rescuing their treasured family home. Can she find a way to save the day?
Ramona and Beezus is the latest Walden Media family film to attempt to do something a bit different to the majority of family films produced by Hollywood and, while it falls far short of Walden’s best works, it largely manages to achieve this goal. At its heart, this is a film about the awe and wonder of a child’s imagination – that child being the titular Ramona of course – and much power is drawn from this, the story not only coming with plenty of good wholesome messages that many kids can learn something from but also heartwarming sensibilities, with the plot never shying away from tackling serious issues that many kids may face at some point in their childhood and the sadness that can result but the outcome being so positive that it is hard not to leave the cinema with a smile on your face. At times the film also proves quite magical, particularly in the animated segments which, effectively blended with the live action, portray Ramona’s imagination, giving us a wondrous insight into how this creative individual views the world around her, something that really allows us to know her as a character. The animation in these segments is simplistic but beautiful, the low tech approach proving to be a very apt way to show the imagination of Ramona, being exactly the kind of thing she might, and in one scene does, produce herself. The only gripe here is that these segments are rather few and far between and it is hard not to feel as though director Elizabeth Allen hasn’t gone far enough with this aspect of the film. Fortunately, the charm and warmth on display elsewhere goes some way to making up for this shortcoming. The storyline, while predictable to many, it solid and, while this film is nowhere near as funny as it could be, there are plenty of humorous moments. Additionally, there are also lots of sweet moments with the romances that occur being delightful and, thanks to strong chemistries between Ginnifer Goodwin and Josh Duhamel (something that was missing between Josh Duhamel and Katherine Heigl in recent romcom Life As We Know It), Selena Gomez and Hutch Dano (as Beezus’ romantic interest Henry Huggins), and even Bridget Moynahan and John Corbett come to think of it, very believable as well. The acting in general is decent and it is certainly clear that everyone had a lot of fun making the film. The adult actors may not be given much opportunity to really act but Moynahan and Corbett are likable and even amusing at times, Goodwin is wonderful and Duhamel is charismatic. Only Sandra Oh fails to stand out in the ensemble as a rather uptight teacher. The actors all act well against each other and the familial relationships all convince, us buying Moynahan and Corbett as parents, Goodwin as a fun aunt and, most importantly, Selena Gomez and Joey King as sisters. Gomez is very likable but it is newcomer Joey King who the film really belongs to with her delivering a performance that is totally adorable. So, overall, Ramona and Beezus is a sweet heartwarming feel good family film that is both enjoyable and wholesome that, only let down by the absence of more animated segments, proves to be a major redemption for Walden Media.
Review by Robert Mann BA (Hons)
© BRWC 2010.
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