[Screen It]


(2010) (Joey King, Selma Gomez) (G)

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Dramedy: A 9-year-old must deal with her overactive imagination regarding developments at school and home, much to the chagrin of her teenage sister.
Ramona Quimby (JOEY KING) is a 9-year-old girl whose overactive imagination often amuses her parents, Robert (JOHN CORBETT) and Dorothy (BRIDGET MOYNAHAN), but also means that she doesn't live up to the personal and school standards set by her "perfect" teenage sister, Beezus (SELENA GOMEZ).

The latter is near constantly irritated by her younger sister (including her nickname that stemmed from Ramona being unable to pronounce Beatrice when she first learned to talk), and Ramona often feels inadequate and inferior compared to Beezus who's developing romantic feeling for her longtime friend, Henry (HUTCH DANO).

While Ramona has a good friend in Howie (JASON SPEVACK), it doesn't help that classmate Susan (SIERRA McCORMICK) is always putting her down or that their teacher, Mrs. Meacham (SANDRA OH), is disappointed in her performance at school. She does get support from her Aunt Bea (GINNIFER GOODWIN), but she's recently been distracted by Howie's uncle, Hobart (JOSH DUHAMEL), her former high school sweetheart who wants to win her back despite him preparing to move to Alaska.

When her dad loses his job and her mom has to go back to work, Ramona's worries intensify, be that her parents will get divorced or that the family will lose their house. As everyone tries to cope with those and other developments, Ramona tries to sort through everything, all while Beezus' constant irritation toward her younger sibling is tempered by her deep-down love for her.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
Nicknames can come from any number of sources, although most usually stem from the less formal version of one's given name (Tom for Thomas, Katie for Katherine, etc.). Others, however, can arise from physical attributes (Shorty, Squirrely, etc.) or the less mean-spirited and unintentional inability of younger siblings or relatives to pronounce names of those in their family.

That's the genesis of half of the named duo in "Ramona and Beezus," the first full-length adaptation of Beverly Cleary's popular series of children's books that debuted way back in 1955. In it, and due to Ramona being unable to pronounce Beatrice correctly back when she was just learning to talk, her older sister became known as Beezus, much to her chagrin. But that's what younger siblings seem destined to do -- torment, irritate and/or serve as constant thorns in the sides of their older brothers and sisters, at least according to the perception of those latter siblings.

Interestingly enough, writers Laurie Craig and Nick Pustay and director Elizabeth Allen have opted to switch the story's point of view from the seemingly put-upon Beezus in the literary works to the playful and imaginative but self-doubting Ramona in the film version. To be honest, I've never read any of the original books so such a change has no impact on yours truly and any comparisons to the source material are obviously moot.

The resultant new work should probably please fairly young viewers (and their parents looking for safe family entertainment) and it certainly has its share of enjoyable and even touching moments. Yet, it doesn't feel terribly novel (not taking into account its source material being more than half a century old), it crams perhaps too much material into its 103 or so minute runtime, and despite some old-fashioned flights of fancy it doesn't come off as quirky, imaginative or fun as it could and probably should have been.

The latter is probably the most disappointing as the filmmakers introduce that to us right away, with 9-year-old Ramona (an appealing and winning Joey King in the role) informing us about her overactive imagination.

We then see her normal school yard movement across hanging rings suddenly switch to an animated view (using purposefully primitive cut-outs to represent childhood rather than state of the art special effects) of her dangling high above a chasm until reality kicks back in and she finds herself hanging by her feet a foot or so above the playground sand.

A few other such moments occasionally pop up in the film (some similarly animated, others shown more realistically including the usual kid being scared by noises at night material). For such flights of fancy, however, they're not that imaginative, fun and/or funny, elements that probably would have made them more entertaining and/or endearing to older kids and especially adults. This year's earlier "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" proved that such moments could do just that.

Like that film, this one also has something of a "The Wonder Years" vibe about it, what with mixing standard childhood quandaries (school and classmate issues, feeling inadequate compared to siblings, having embarrassing things happen, etc.) and slapstick style moments with more serious developments (the dad losing his job and mom having to go back to work and some related tension, the family pet dying, having to put the home up for sale due to job relocation, etc.).

That's a lot of elements to cram into one film (compared to the various books and the handful of episodes of the short-lived 1988 miniseries starring young Sarah Polley as Ramona), and things do feel a bit piled on and the focus quickly moves from one to the next.

Yet, some of that and especially the job related material certainly give the film an undeniable timeliness, and it also imbues the story and its characters with some palpable heart and realism. Allen clearly benefits from having a good cast whose members feel completely at ease in their various parts, be that Josh Corbett and Bridget Moynahan as the parents or Disney Channel star Selena Gomez joining King in the title roles.

Ginnifer Goodwin and Josh Duhamel show up as the kids' aunt and her former high school suitor respectively, and while that has some charm of its own, their "will they or won't they get back together" subplot feels a bit shoehorned into the proceeding as if to appease teens and/or adults who might end up having to see this (the same holds true for yet another subplot, albeit one that fits a bit more naturally, where Beezus develops standard teen romantic feelings for her longtime boy friend).

The overall effort is pleasant enough to sit through. Yet, with some pairing down of story elements in favor of increasing Ramona's childhood imagination in regards to everything that transpires around her (and perhaps presented realistically rather than as cut-out/stop-motion style animation), the film might have become something of a cinematic classic. As it stands, it's mildly diverting, but pretty much instantly forgettable, at least to someone far, far away from its target demographic. "Ramona and Beezus" rates as a 5 out of 10.

Reviewed July 13, 2010 / Posted July 23, 2010

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