Little kids and tweens — girls, specifically — will probably eat up "Ramona and Beezus," or at least be suitably amused by it.
They won't be troubled with things like a lack of plot or narrative momentum. It won't bother them that a character's hair gets awkwardly hacked up after a battle with peanut butter, then appears magically restored to its original length soon afterward. They won't think twice about the fact that a backyard is covered with gaping, muddy holes after a massive water fight and pipe explosion, then is miraculously landscaped to perfection in a day.
Speaking of a day, that's apparently how long it takes to organize a wedding for dozens of guests, including altering a gown to fit a bride who's several inches shorter than the woman who walked down the aisle in it the first time.
This all sounds like uptight, grown-up nitpicking, probably. But it's also a reflection of a weakness in storytelling, which is sad given the strength of the source material.
"Ramona and Beezus" is based on Beverly Cleary's beloved children's books, which have been around for more than 50 years and vividly capture the playfulness and awkwardness of youth. Laurie Craig and Nick Pustay's script features tales from several of Cleary's books, and as a result it feels like a series of individual episodes — both madcap and heartrending — rather than a cohesive story with any real drive. Elizabeth Allen, who also directed "Aquamarine," plays up the antics for maximum wackiness, and they're amplified by the uncharacteristically jaunty, intrusive score by Mark Mothersbaugh.
Newcomer Joey King has a likable way about her, though, as the high-spirited, accident-prone Ramona Quimby. She's a natural young actress, and she even gets a chance to show some range in a couple of tearjerker moments. But the repeated fantasy sequences, which depict her imaginative interior world, have an intentionally rough-hewn aesthetic and end up looking more cheesy than charming.
Back in the reality, the movie follows the adventures of the 9-year-old, her teenage sister, Beezus (Disney star Selena Gomez), baby Roberta, dad Robert (John Corbett) and mom Dorothy (Bridget Moynahan). Ramona's Aunt Bea (Ginnifer Goodwin) seemingly has no job because she's around constantly to lend the sweet-but-clumsy middle child support. This is also a good thing, though, because Bea's subplot with next-door neighbor Hobart (Josh Duhamel) is probably the most intriguing aspect of the movie — at least for anyone over the age of 12. Bea and Hobart were high-school sweethearts; 15 years later, he wants her to accompany him to Alaska. Goodwin and Duhamel (who co-starred in "Win a Date With Tad Hamilton!") are extremely cute together and have tons of chemistry — but most of their moments are upended by Ramona's silliness.
She ruins Hobart's car by spilling paint all over it in a rainbow of colors. She nearly burns down the kitchen trying to make dinner. She can't even do show-and-tell right in class (Sandra Oh has some deadpan zingers as her strict teacher). Then she falls though the upstairs floor and into the living room while a real estate agent is showing the Quimbys' house.
Yes, the family may have to move from their idyllic Portland neighborhood when dad's job gets downsized, and mom's part-time job isn't enough to keep the family afloat. Ramona tries to help raise money, which always ends up in disaster. In theory, this could have been useful for families to watch together if they're going through similar troubles in these trying economic times. Instead, "Ramona and Beezus" opts for cliches — right down to playing "Walking on Sunshine" during an obligatory zany montage.
Kids and grown-ups both deserve smarter entertainment.