Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Signal Watch Watches: Ramona and Beezus (2010)

As a child of a teacher with her Masters in Reading Education, we never wanted for books around the house.  I had my favorites, and I read a lot of the Beverly Cleary books featuring the neighborhood of kids of Klickitat Street, with Henry Huggins, Beezus & Ramona (and Henry's dog, Ribsy*).

It's been a long, long time since I read the series, probably closer to 30 years than 20, and so my memory is a bit hazy.  Still, I was amazed at how many scenes and references from of the books came back to me when I found Ramona and Beezus on the HBO in-demand options, and once the movie started rolling.  From the "kitty-kat Q" to the proper way to crack a hardboiled egg (a technique I still employ from time to time), to the employment problems of Mr. Quimby.

I believe this is the edition of the book I had.  Beezus was such a square.

The kids of Klickitat Street always seemed to me to live in the parallel ideal kid world, but one still very recognizable.  Not quite the wacky world of The Mad Scientists' Club where you could talk your way into owning a submarine (which, to this day, still makes me laugh), nor quite as cynical or smart-alecky as Henry Reed, Incorporated, nor a world in which minor crime ran rampant, like that of Encyclopedia Brown, who I always found to be a bit of a pill.  I'm sorry, its true.

Despite no clear temporal statement, even as a kid I knew the books were time displaced to the 1950's.  Something about the characters set them alongside the Peanuts gang in a place and time where things were pretty okie-dokey, adults didn't seem to overly supervise kids (even when events got complicated), and kids were not constantly dragged off to soccer practice.

Despite all that, aside from the long-suffering protagonist of Super Fudge and Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, somehow the kids of Klickitat Street rang a bit more true than some of the other fictional kids with which we were supposed to identify.



Fact: I was a bit incapacitated here on Memorial Day.  I'm having some issue with a ligament in my ankle, and was couch bound and thus channel surfing, and so...  I watched Ramona and Beezus (2010).

I was approximately 45 minutes into half-watching the movie while I had my laptop open when Jamie said "You know, you're going to have to review this movie now."  And I realized "Yeah, well, its actually not driving me insane the way most stuff aimed at kids makes me weep for our nation's future, so that's fine."

And, hey!  No problem.  Recommendation from me, I guess.  This was a surprisingly well put together family movie.  Pretty clearly the folks working on the script went directly to the source material for inspiration and ideas, something I think you'd (a) be foolish not to do given the track record, and (b) its also a highly recognizable set of characters, so changing things up really doesn't make much sense, anyway.

I'm not positive, but it felt a bit like a mix of both the books Beezus and Ramona and Ramona Quimby, Age 8.

Like the books, the Ramona of the movies is trying to do her best, but she sort of has her own thing going on, and too often that comes into conflict with the realities of the world around her (realities that she seems eternally to be trying to learn, but it isn't working out).  She experiences the bewilderment and rage-tear inducing moments such as Howie refusing to back up her story about the hole in her house and the constant knowing nods of everyone older than her who simply will not tell her what the deal is.

The director, Elizabeth Allen, paints in a bright Disneyfied pallette, which feels completely appropriate, and some creative insertions of a few animated scenes depicting Ramona's POV are used sparingly and add quite a bit to the film.  The cast is also pretty great, featuring John Corbett as Mr. Quimby, Disney star Selena Gomez as Beezus and the terrific Joey King as Ramona.  And the "Is that Sandra Oh?" appearance of Sandra Oh as Ramona's teacher.

I do think the movie strays from the 1950's-ness a wee bit to its advantage and to appeal a bit better to their audience.  It makes Beezus older in order to work in a puppy-love teen-angle with Henry Huggins (and to cast Gomez, who I assume was a draw for kids in 2010), and there's a bit of drama in the 3rd act that I thought smartly played on the anxieties of young kids as they watch their parents struggle.  But its a movie, and so, of course, things sort of work themselves out.  No harm, no foul.

Anyway:  cute, kid-friendly movie.  True to the books if you liked those, but a tragic lack of Ribsy.


*I remember loving that imaginary dog as a kid.
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