Rated G, 104 minutes
Relaxed, sweet fun with "Ramona and Beezus"
If you have young children, in particular young girls age 6 to 12, they should enjoy the infectious, clean fun from precocious Ramona Quimby in the new children's movie "Ramona and Beezus." Based on the characters created by noted author Beverly Cleary in her classic series of children's books, the movie is uneven and has too many things to keep track of, but the movie has just enough clean, light-hearted fun and pleasant appeal to keep the family engaged.
"Ramona and Beezus" centers on the Quimby family, with young, precocious Ramona (Joey King) and big sis Beatrice or Beezus for short (played by teen star and Texan Selena Gomez) at the heart of the story. Imaginative, mischevious but never mean, Ramona has a good heart even when it gets her in trouble. Her family finds themselves at a crossroads when Ramona's father (John Corbitt) loses his job and her Mom (Bridget Moynahan) has to go back to work. They find themselves downsizing, forcing Ramona to get creative in helping save the family home.
Ramona is essentially a female version of Dennis the Menace with less menace and more creativity and heart. Though teen sensation and singer Gomez is the big draw here, not to mention a cast of familiar faces, including Corbitt and Moynahan, as well as Sandra Oh ("Grey's Anatomy") as her beleagured teacher and Ginnifer Goodwin ("Big Love") and Josh Duhamel ("Transformers") as Ramona's aunt and her aunt's long-lost flame, the real heart of the story is Ramona, played with infectious appeal by newcomer King, who's downright cute as the young girl who has her heart in the right place.
The filmmakers know Gomez is the drawing card and while she is certainly pretty, her role is clearly secondary and supporting to Ramona's, and the film could've easily been called "Ramona" and it would've worked just as well. It introduces way too many characters to keep track of and does very little with them (Henry Huggins, who was Cleary's first protagonist before switching to Ramona, is seen in a small role as her best pal).
The film's script is also slight: it's essentially a series of episodes of Ramona strung together trying to save the family film and getting into all sorts of trouble, and while some work well, others do not (in particular an extended episode involving paint and an old jeep). Another humorous bit has Ramona using a bad word, for which she eventually decides to use "guts." The climax and ending are as predictable as they come, but Ramona and company have some good, clean fun along the way, and in an era of smart-alecky kids saying and doing worse things than adults, "Ramona and Beezus" comes as a pleasant surprise.