Who's In It: Joey King, Selena Gomez, John Corbett, Bridget Moynahan, Ginnifer Goodwin, Josh Duhamel, Sandra Oh
The Basics: Ramona Quimby and her older sister Beatrice (nicknamed Beezus because younger Ramona couldn't pronounce it) live with their happy family on Klickitat Street. Aside from Ramona's rambunctious behavior and inability to "color inside the lines," they're all exceptionally pleased with themselves, the way any 1950s TV family would be. But this isn't the 1950s--when Beverly Cleary first started writing these beloved stories--and the very contemporary intrusions of unemployment, the threat of dislocation and fame-hungry child acting careers all butt into the Quimby family. But it's nothing that can't be solved by a good-natured garden hose water fight. No cynicism allowed around these G-rated parts.
What's The Deal: It's a little stiff, kind of plotless, suffers from too many points of view and is directed in a clunky way that doesn't allow this group of actors to feel like anything you'd recognize as a real family until the sweetly moving last act. Its portrayal of Ramona as a nervy little kid fails about half the time, too. You want this child to be at least as idiosyncratic and fascinating as Harriet the Spy or Veruca Salt or Mary from The Secret Garden, some of children's literature's more headstrong young ladies. But she just seems like a regular goofy kid here, only occasionally rising to the task of boldly going where others fear to travel. It works best when she's occasionally allowed to do that.
What Saves It: There's real-life resonance in the scenes where Ramona assumes herself to be more powerful than she is, assuming that when her father is "downsized" from his job and the house is threatened with foreclosure, that she can protect the family from financial collapse. And because this is from the oddball family values production company Walden Media (the underrated Bridge to Terabithia), it doesn't shy away from dark stuff, like when the old family cat passes away and both Ramona and Beezus rally to bury it quickly so as not to bring added stress to the adults. But mostly what gets it over is its sense of love among family and friends in the final moments I mentioned earlier. When her father tells Ramona, "You saved us," you'll be forgiven for getting a little wet-eyed.
Of Possible Annoyance To Cleary Purists: The script is somewhat based on 1984's Ramona Forever but, as I already mentioned, is padded with new material too. Having said that, apparently Beverly Cleary, now in her 90s, makes a cameo appearance somewhere in the film. I just don't know where that happened. If you're a superfan I'm sure you'll spot her.