Ramona and Beezus

Back in the early 00s, when Dakota Fanning was arriving on the scene (I Am Sam, Uptown Girls), many of us did a double take, wondering who this kid was– not only was she beyond adorable, she could also act– holding her own against the likes of Sean Penn, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Denzel Washington.

Now that Fanning is all grown up (she turned 16 this year), leading the Volturi in their fight against renegade vampires, we need a little torch-passing.

Presenting Joey King.

The (almost) 11-year-old cutie-pie gets her first starring role in director Elizabeth Allen’s Ramona and Beezus, based on the beloved Beverly Cleary books from the 50s (and 60s… and 70s… and, um, even the 80s).

The entire movie (and potential franchise) centers on King, and she runs away with it, making the movie much more than just another throw-away summer kid flick.

Playing a concoction of personalities, including middle-child syndrome victim, petulant-ish 9-year-old, and keeper of one heck of a colorful imagination, King creates a character that you can’t help but want to see more of.

Ramona and Beezus, for those of you who somehow made it through your childhood without reading the Cleary books (shame on you!) tells the story of Ramona Quimby and her older sister Beezus (pop/Disney star Selena Gomez). They enjoy life in a saccharin-sweet, modern day Leave it to Beaver household, complete with Daddy giving piggy back rides when he gets home from work and Mommy whipping up a delicious meal of their favorite foods each night.

Beezus is an ultra-pretty, straight-laced, straight-A student, Ramona is a tomboy-ish moppet who hides her less-than-average report card in the freezer and has a penchant for making up cute little words like ‘terrifical’ and ‘funner’. (There’s also baby Roberta, but she seems to just disappear unless there’s some cute baby antics to be had.) Yes, live is pretty vanilla on Klickitat Street… until Daddy (John Corbett, My Big Fat Greek Wedding) loses his job. Suddenly the family needs to pull together even closer than they already are, and the movie goes from sappy to surprisingly heartfelt.

Ramona and Beezus is a lot of fun, very sweet, and it’s perfect for most ages (there are some serious-ish life lessons that get presented, including dad’s layoff and the death of a family pet, and there’s also a fair amount of sister vs. sister imitative behavior). For a G-rated throwaway summer movie, it’s a pleasant surprise, made better by Ramona’s brilliant imagination (she visits outer space and goes skydiving) and plentiful amounts of kid-friendly gross-out moments– involving raw egg, vomit, baby food, mud, and cans and cans of house paint.

The adults are all solid in their roles (including Josh Duhamel and Ginnifer Goodwin, who almost steal the show as neighbor Hobart and as Ramona’s Aunt Bea), and Gomez does what she can with a part that serves as a distant second-fiddle to King’s Ramona.

You won’t laugh as hard as you did in Despicable Me, and you won’t be as awed as you were at Toy Story 3, but you’ll walk out of the theater pleased that there are still good, solid family movies out there. If you have children (particularly of the female variety) between ages five and fifteen, it’s well worth it.

You might even think it’s terrifical.

4/5 stars