This may just be my low expectations speaking, but I saw Ramona and Beezus the other day and was quite delighted with it. It had the makings of a very cliched children's movie. A puckish little girl feels misunderstood at home and at school, and her every effort to straighten up and fly right is thwarted by misfortune and misguided enthusiasm. But Ramona and Beezus rises above the cliches and speaks some real wisdom. Ramona feels misunderstood, but as it turns out she's the one who misunderstands. Her wise, kind parents understand her quite well, and the main movement of the story is Ramona's coming to understand how much she's loved. Sometimes it seems that every live-action children's movie made in the last thirty years involves inattentive parents following their own pursuits at the expense of their children's happiness until finally, in a climactic moment, they see how wrong they've been and apologize to the kids. At the climactic moment of Ramona and Beezus, Ramona tells her parents that she's sorry, and the parents don't--get this--don't say, "We're sorry, honey. You were right all along." I almost got up to adjust my television set. I thought at first that maybe the DVD player had skipped. If I'm not mistaken, the parents do apologize elsewhere in the movie (at appropriate times), but it was refreshing to see a movie that hinged on a child gaining wisdom rather than parents seeing the light. And it's such beautiful wisdom that Ramona gains. She learns that she is her father's treasure, that he thinks about her all the time. I'm sorry to spoil the ending, but it really is lovely.
I'll tell you why I like this story so much. We all think we want to be proven right. But when it comes to finding real joy, my money is on those moments when I'm proven wrong--when my vision of the universe and my place in it turned out to be too limited. There's a certain pleasure in saying, "I told you so." Too many kids' movies play to that small pleasure. There's a bigger, wilder pleasure in being able to say, "Who'd have thought?" Ramona, perhaps, would have gotten some satisfaction out of having her parents say, "You were right, we were wrong." But she got much more joy in saying, "What a fool I've been! They've loved me all along."
Joey King, the girl who plays Ramona, is a gifted little actress. It was 18-year-old Selena Gomez (Beezus) who reconciled my teenage boys to the idea of sitting through Ramona and Beezus, but after the fact even they had more to say about Joey King than Selena Gomez. I haven't read Beverly Cleary's Ramona stories, so I've got nothing to say about the movie's faithfulness to the books. Maybe some of you know both the movie and the books and can speak to that.
There were a few false notes in the movie. I was surprised to see a nine-year-old who didn't know any bad words that were any badder than "Guts!" There is a little bit of teenage kissing, which was a little bit more than I was expecting in a G-rated movie. There are definitely moments when Ramona and Beezus looks and feels like all the other live-action suburban children's movies you've ever seen. But on balance, I liked this movie a whole lot more than I had planned to.
I also loved True Grit.