For 60 years, six-to-12 year-old children have enjoyed books by Beverly Cleary, so it’s
actually quite surprising that it’s taken this long to bring any of them to the big screen.
Her ordinary, thoroughly believable characters dwell on Klickitat Street in Portland,
Oregon, which is a real street, not far from her childhood home.
Mischievous, imaginative nine year-old Ramona Quimby (Joey King) lives with
her sedate, strait-laced, often exasperated 15 year-old sister Beatrice (Disney Channel
star Selena Gomez), whom she’s nicknamed Beezus, and toddler sister Roberta (twins
Aila & Zanti McCubbing). They’re watched over by loving parents, Dorothy (Bridget
Moynahan) and Robert (John Corbett), along with funky Aunt Bea (Ginnifer Goodwin)
and her old flame, Hobart (Josh Duhamel). Ramona’s guided by her sensible third-grade
teacher, Mrs. Meacham (Sandra Oh), and observes ‘first love’ between Beezus and Henry
Huggins (Hutch Dano). It’s a tumultuous time in the Quimby household – and when
Ramona gets her own room, she finds a grate through which she overhears her parents
talking about the financial insecurity that the family faces.
Adapted by Laurie Craig (“Ella Enchanted”) and Nick Pustay, who combined episodes
from all eight Ramona books, and directed by Elizabeth Allen (“Aquamarine”), it tackles
some serious themes for tweens, like Robert’s losing his job, Dorothy’s working overtime
and how the family is stressed, fearing that they may have to move away. That’s unusual
in a pre-teen movie but certainly appropriate to the current recession, particularly as
Ramona sees her father struggling with his identity.
Filmed in Vancouver, there’s an unmistakable Pacific Northwest atmosphere. Yet,
it plays like a sitcom, better suited to the small screen than the large; that’s particularly
evident in the heroine’s periodic, low-budget CGI daydreams. Trivia note: back in 1988,
Ramona came to life in a short-lived Canadian TV series, starring a then-nine-year-old
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Ramona and Beezus” is a generic, gingerly
gentle 5. But exasperating, endearing Ramona and her family should enjoy a long and
prosperous life ahead on the DVD shelf.