Newcomer girl thespian Joey King plays Ramona Quimby in Ramona and Beezus, a sweetened synthesis of stories from the great Beverly Cleary’s classic series of kids’ books about a rambunctious grade-schooler and her more sedate older sister, Beezus. Disney starlet Selena Gomez plays Beezus. Both sisters are nice, and so are the actresses who play them: They scrunch up their fresh faces to signify minor displeasure, and they poke their plump lower lips out prettily to telegraph momentary snits. Dad (John Corbett) and Mom (Bridget Moynahan), as well as Mom’s slightly funky younger sister, Aunt Bea (Ginnifer Goodwin), and Aunt Bea’s slightly funky former-and-future beau, Hobart (Josh Duhamel), are nice too. And don’t forget Ramona’s wise third-grade teacher, Mrs. Meacham (Sandra Oh) — she’s nice even when she’s saying shush.
That’s the thing about Ramona and Beezus: Everyone is so darn gentle. Every escapade — whether Ramona sets the house on fire or Dad loses his job — ends in hugs. (The timely theme of economic downturn was also timely in 1975, when Cleary published Ramona and Her Father, from which the subplot was taken.) The movie — produced by Denise Di Novi and Alison Greenspan, smart specialists in adaptations of young lit, including The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants — is shot in the bright colors of beach towels. On the one hand, such equanimity reflects the cheery, lighthearted humor of Cleary’s well-loved books, first published half a century ago. On the other hand, this proud graduate of the School of Cleary Classics wishes that, like the young heroine herself, Ramona and Beezus dared more often to color outside the lines. B-