Beginning in 1950, Oregon-born author Beverly Cleary began penning stories about the inhabitants of Portland’s Klickitat Street, an idyllic suburban anywhereland home to a handful of recurring characters who starred in books like Henry And Beezus and Ramona The Brave. A former children’s librarian, Cleary writes with gentle good humor that doesn’t shy away from the confusion and occasional humiliation that comes from being a kid, particularly a kid whose high spirits and overactive imagination makes her stick out from the pack. Generations of such kids have seen themselves in Ramona Quimby, a rambunctious, goodhearted troublemaker who moves to the big screen—alongside her older, more responsible sister Beezus—for the first time in Ramona And Beezus.
John Corbett and Bridget Moynahan co-star as the sisters’ parents, whose easygoing approach to child-rearing gets thrown for a loop when Corbett loses his job. In the spirit of misguided helpfulness, Ramona (Joey King) steps up with a series of schemes to save the family from the financial ruin and disintegration promised by one of her classmates. The film paces itself episodically to her get-rich-quick schemes as a pair of sweet courtships—one between Beezus (Selena Gomez) and a neighborhood kid, another between aunt Ginnifer Goodwin and her estranged high-school sweetheart Josh Duhamel—play out behind her.
It’s a weird time to adapt Cleary’s books. They’ve aged well on the page, but their sweet, low-key tone makes them out of step with the sort of kids’ entertainment that tends to make it into theaters. (It’s no accident that Cleary was chosen to pen some Leave It To Beaver novels in the early ’60s.) So it’s tempting to praise Elizabeth Allen’s adaptation simply for not being an ADD-enabling spectacle along the lines of Robert Rodriguez’s Shorts, in spite of the handful of CGI fantasy sequences, and it’s worth noting that Allen coaxes sweet performances from her leads, particularly King, who makes for a rambunctious-but-not-obnoxious Ramona. If only Allen had avoided making Klickitat Street look like Blandsville, U.S.A. Ramona And Beezus has the undeniably nice, pleasantly uninspired feel of film designed to kill time with the kids on a rainy weekend. As such, there’s nothing really wrong with it. But there’s nothing amazingly right about it either, unless, of course, it sends young viewers marching off to libraries to find the real Klickitat Street for themselves.