I can't say enough good things about the result of the Herculean effort it was to turn a much loved, classic children's book into the pearl of family fun that is: Ramona and Beezus.
After some fifty years, Beverly Cleary's books are, to say the least, somewhat dated. And some may cry foul that Hollywood didn't keep the beloved Ramona in her nostalgic time setting, but here director Elizabeth Allen, and screenwriters Laura Craig and Nick Pustay do a fantastic job of updating and contemporizing Ramona without making her rap and only talk to her friends via text messaging, and in so doing the film takes on a timeless quality, while still exploring a rather big issue of our current times: job displacement.
The main plot of the film involves Ramona's dad, Robert (the ever charming John Corbett), being downsized out of a job and having to either reinvent himself or look for new work that may take the family out of town, and take Ramona (played here to the hilt with contagious enthusiasm by the effervescent, Joey King) away from the only life she's known.
As Ramona struggles with her family's financial woes, her big sister Beezus (Selena Gomez) and her escalating attitude towards her, and all the kids in her school thinking she's a complete flake (just because she likes to fantasize a little on the playground), you can't help but admire her take and ideas on everything she encounters.
How refreshing it is to see a nine-year old in a film who is bright and imaginative, but still nine, and not as worldly wise as a forty-something Bohemian in a tween's body.
The true brilliance of the film is that it never fails to rely upon the child's prospective throughout to paint the tapestry of how we see her world, and in so doing makes us feel for her and with her.
Performances are quite good here from the entire cast, with Gomez surprising me with her well played "I love you/I hate you" big sister, Corbett sliding from hunk to dad roles with ease and believability, but the movie is dominated by King, who (if she doesn't grow exponentially) might be able to play a couple of more leading little girl roles in the next year of so, and should play them with the genuineness, depth and candor she brings to Ramona.
As a family film that the whole family can truly enjoy, Ramona and Beezus does a perfect job of making a classic resonate with an audience of today, while keeping the charm , grace and (dare I say) innocence that' was always best loved about the original.