A third-grader tries to have the most fantasticalerrific summer vacation ever in Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer, a movie based on the books of Megan McDonald.
There are, according to Wikipedia, about 10 Judy Moody books and another five or so that focus on her little brother Stink. Though I’ve not read the books, I get a sense from the movie that this is Ramona Quimby territory — imaginative kids, having adventures and frequently getting in trouble and/or making a mess.
Judy Moody (Jordana Beatty) is a bubbly, excitable third-grader whose hair is never quite combed and who, when the film opens, is having an animated (one-way) discussion with her cat about her plans for the summer. She intends to get her three friends — Rocky (Garrett Ryan), Amy (Taylar Hender) and Frank (Preston Bailey) — to join her in a summer of 100 thrills, involving dares and amazing feats (like riding a local roller coaster or surfing a wave). But she soon finds out that Rocky is bound for circus camp and Amy is heading to Borneo with her mother. They’ll be having amazing adventures but Judy will be left at home with only Frank and her little brother Stink (Parris Mosteller). Worse — she won’t even be making an annual visit to her grandmother’s house. Instead, her parents have to leave to care for a sick relative and Judy and Stink will be left with her Aunt Opal (Heather Graham), whom she hasn’t seen since she was little.
This last part turns out not to be as bad as Judy fears. Aunt Opal, a world traveler, calls herself a guerilla artist and is always up for bedazzling a garbage can lid to make a crazy hat or making a giant Bigfoot statue on the lawn (Stink is determined to catch Bigfoot this summer). Judy might just be able to have an adventure or two after all.
Been to any children’s birthday parties lately? If so, you can probably remember how, at some point during the party (usually somewhere between 6 and 15 minutes in), you start to get a headache, feel a kind of weariness that seeps into your bones and get a strong desire for nothing in the world so much as some ibuprofen and a cool gin and tonic. I felt that same sense — that everything is too loud and that, even though this is a movie, I had just got cake frosting in my hair — about 10 minutes into this movie. There are all these close-ups, lots of cheering and big hammy “the sun’ll come out” acting by the kids. It is, in a way that even Michael Bay at his most bombastic can’t achieve, very loud in this movie. Why so much muchness, I thought. That and, hey, is that Urkel? (Yep, Jaleel White cameo.)
Of course the target audience for this movie won’t know who Urkel was. They probably won’t think it’s loud or be bothered by the hamminess either. I can see how the stories here would be fun for the right kid — someone, maybe five or six years old through about 10 or so. In fact, the movie actually made me suspect the books were probably great rollicking things. That doesn’t always translate well onto the big screen. The recent Ramona and Beezus was kind of limp and lukewarm compared to how adventure-packed I remember those books being as a kid. For kids who love Judy Moody books, it may be enough just to see some of their favorite characters on screen.
As someone who has no familiarity with the books, however, I wasn’t entertained. I felt the two Diary of a Wimpy Kid movies were pretty narrowly focused at their age group and little beyond that, but even those movies offer humor and sweetness that gives some texture for the adults that drove that core audience to the theater. Judy Moody on the other hand felt both too big with all its wacky loudness and too slight with its very minimal story. For parents of book fans, I suggest you take the Advil now and have the drink waiting for you when you get home. For everybody else, Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer is a zany playland you can just keep walking past. C
Rated PG for mild rude humor and language. Directed by John Schultz and written by Kathy Waugh and Megan McDonald (from the books by Megan McDonald), Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer is an hour and 31 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by Relativity Media. It opens on Friday, June 10.