A scene from 'Judy Moody and the NOT Bummer Summer'. (Handout)
True, there are more grating things in the world than pint-sized, sugar-addled children. But nobody makes movies about people chewing with their mouths open.
So be warned: Judy Moody and the NOT Bummer Summer is a comedy about young kids for young kids that feels like it was made by young kids. If your age is in the double digits and you find yourself sitting through it, you have my sympathies. But know that, like any Slurpee-induced high, it will be over before any real damage is done to your attention span.
Based on the bestselling kids-lit series (14 million copies sold worldwide, they say), Australian Jordana Beatty stars as Judy, a precocious third grader whose plans for a not-bummer summer are, like, totally ruined when she discovers her best friends are going on the totally most awesome vacations while she has to stay home with her annoying brother Stink (Paris Mosteller).
Even worse? Shortly thereafter, her parents announce they have to head to California for the next two months and leave Judy and Stink in the care of their free-spirited, wild child aunt Opal (Heather Graham). At first Judy is despondent, but it doesn't take long for Opal, who has spent the last decade as a "guerilla artist" travelling the world, to win over her niece. After all, as it quickly comes evident, she's essentially an overgrown, irresponsible kid herself. Is it very wise for Judy's parents to leave their children in the care of this well-meaning but barely-there ditz? The topic never comes up.
Together, Judy and Opal create a chart on which she and her absent friends can accumulate "thrill points" depending on what they do. Considering her pals are either in circus school or swimming with sharks in Borneo, how is Judy supposed to compete? By tackling a rollercoaster with nerdy friend Frank (Preston Bailey); testing her tightrope-walking skills; and in a last-ditch push for points, aiding Stink in his search for Big Foot.
It's all innocent, per the average age of the audience. But it's also oppressively energetic to the point of mania. Characters are always SPEAKINGLOUDANDFASTLIKE THIS. Graphics are constantly littering the screen. Judy's imagination sends the film veering into animated sequences. And just when you think the film might take a breath, it convulses with another bout of slapstick.
What's missing, for all the primary-coloured production design and up-tempo music, is humanity. Specifically what should be the story's most resonant relationship -- between Judy and Opal -- feels entirely superficial. Where there should be quiet moments to make us care about the characters there are car chases. Most big-screen cartoons these days -- particularly those from Pixar and DreamWorks -- feel more flesh and blood.
Will this inaugural Judy Moody outing satisfy its target audience? Possibly. But just because it's smart commerce doesn't mean it's admirable filmmaking. The genuinely worthwhile films are for everyone.
Top kids-lit film adaptations
Just because kids love it doesn't mean adults shouldn't. The best kids-lit adaptations cross all demographics. (Just as the terrible ones -- Ron Howard's How the Grinch Stole Christmas, for example -- repel pretty much everyone.) These five matched -- or surpassed -- their source material.
The Wizard of Oz (1939): Dorothy is transported via tornado to the magical world of Oz, where a Tin Man, a Lion and a Scarecrow help her locate the Wizard who can send her home.
Old Yeller (1957): Try not to blubber when this boy-and-his-dog Disney classic concludes with a case of rabies and a rifle. Long the standard-bearer for family tear-jerkers that even grown men sniffle at.
Babe (1995): The best argument against bacon ever made. A piglet, raised by border collies, becomes a sheep herder.
The Black Stallion (1979): Francis Ford Coppola produced this film about a boy shipwrecked on an island with an Arabian stallion. After being rescued, the boy finds a trainer and begins racing the world's fastest, fiercest champions.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004): While the first two films based on J.K. Rowling's novels were serviceable, glossy entertainments, it was this third installment -- directed by Alfonso Cuaron -- that elevated the franchise into something darker, deeper and satisfyingly magical.
How to Train Your Dragon (2010): This animated comedy about a young Viking misfit (voiced by Jay Baruchel) who befriends a dragon -- and then realizes the Vikings are wrong to want to kill the misunderstood creatures -- is stirring, funny, intelligent and highlighted by rapturous flying sequences that, even in 2D, make you feel the wind on your face.