Intermittently spry but problematic, director Elizabeth Allen’s Ramona and Beezus captures the highly imaginative world of the inquisitive-to-a-fault schoolgirl Ramona Quimby (Joey King) and her Henry Huggins-chasing, teenage sister Beatrice (nicknamed Beezus by her sister), played by Disney ratings-booster Selena Gomez. The film, the first theatrical release based loosely on Beverly Cleary’s widely cherished, moralistic children’s books, namely Beezus and Ramona, and enthusiastically flaunting the author’s “cross-generational appeal” (per the film’s press notes), picks up at a delicate time for the Quimby family, as Ramona’s father, played by the omnipresent part-filler John Corbett, loses his job and the family must reassess their current financial state. After Ramona gets word of her dad’s lack of employment, and hoping to make up for all the dizzying and troubling antics she performs daily, the precocious girl tries to earn money to help the family survive by washing cars and selling lemonade. The hitch is her numerous, precariously imprudent attempts at contributing to the family usually turn into a lot more hassle (Ramona breaks through the ceiling while her parents show the house to potential buyers) and cleanup (she accidentally covers a jeep in multicolored paint) for the tortured, yet understanding, clan on Klickitat Street.
At over 100 minutes, Ramona and Beezus is a hefty cinematic effort to get through, especially considering how audience-surveyed and clichéd the film proves; pretty much cornering every demographic and quadrant, the kid flick showcases a few too many hokey scenes with Ramona’s single aunt fawning over the next-door hunk, certainly crafted for all potential attending mothers. It’s mass-market filmmaking at its worst, never truly approaching the troubles that hit the Quimby home with an ounce of seriousness—merely in place as sheer plot device. Phoebe in Wonderland, a film that deals with similar issues encapsulating hyperactive kids, at least makes an effort at unearthing and dissecting its young lead’s emotional capacity, providing insight into what it means to be both a parent and child in this difficult scenario.
Here, Allen shows a great aptitude for the creative imagery displayed on screen when Ramona whimsically flies into fantasy mode, but hardly can tackle the much deeper, heartier family material the film flimsily establishes as its narrative spine. There is an underlying energy to Ramona and Beezus, unquestionably supplemented by King’s bouncy presence and the digitally animated daydream sequences, but the film strives to reach all audiences at once, and in doing so, comes off cluttered and episodic, failing to evoke or illustrate the imaginative reach and reality of its audaciously unique protagonist.