“Sometimes I color inside the lines. It depends on the picture.”
“Ramona and Beezus”
At Quality 16 and Rave
20th Century Fox
More than 50 years ago, children’s writer Beverly Cleary debuted her young heroine to an audience of millions. Everyone from your mother to your best friend has had some experience with the Ramona Quimby books — the ones with the wacky, slightly bratty little girl that draws her name like a cat and clutches a doll named after a Chevrolet minivan. Now, Ms. Quimby has finally made the leap to the silver screen in this year’s “Ramona and Beezus,” to moderate success. But while the literary Ramona was always guaranteed to bring a little spice into her family’s lives, her film counterpart is a little more conventional.
Not that this is a bad thing. In fact, the key to the film’s watchability might derive from its self-control. Admit it: Cleary’s literary protagonist was a bit of a pest and at times an insufferable attention-seeker. Imagine the horror story such a character could have turned into (think Mike Myers in “The Cat in the Hat”). Instead, young actress Joey King’s (“Quarantine”) Ramona seeks to tone down the hyperactive tantrums with sisterly bonding and contrition. When Ramona accidentally spills paint all over a neighbor’s Jeep, she shows genuine sorrow for the trouble she has caused. So while the film’s Ramona might not be the one we remember, it’s a Ramona we can get more on board with.
The film takes even more liberties in terms of script. Instead of focusing on just the skeletal areas of the original, “Ramona and Beezus” becomes a conglomeration of all the Quimby books, taking a few choice scenes from each. Beezus (Selena Gomez, TV’s “Wizards of Waverly Place”) is given more of a main role. Good old Henry Huggins (Hutch Dano, TV’s “Zeke and Luther”) has morphed into Beezus’s love interest. And a love story between Ramona’s Aunt Bea (Ginnifer Goodwin, “He’s Just Not That Into You”) and her neighbor is thrown in, too, just for good measure.
Yet the highlight of the film is still King herself, who looks like a frazzled cherub in her bright red rain boots and perpetually disheveled bob. Cute but not cloying, King transforms Ramona from a run-of-the-mill pest into a troublesome little sister. And together with Gomez and Goodwin, the three, with their pillowy cheeks and Botticellian expressions, could start a family together — white-picket fence and all.
“Ramona and Beezus” is a film that colors precisely inside the lines, painting Ramona’s suburban Klickitat Street in bright, deliberative strokes. With several of the year’s expected blockbusters screeching to a halt, the film is a refreshing summer cleanser with a modest goal: to make you smile. And smile you will.