As hyper-kinetic as a Japanese game show and as colorful as a bowl of Froot Loops, Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer romps into theaters with the same wreckless abandon as a gaggle of grade-schoolers attacking a bouncy castle. It may not hold much in the way of entertainment for anyone over the age of 10, but the younger set will eat it up with the same fervor they have for new episodes of Phineas and Ferb.
Based on the popular books by Megan McDonald, the movie opens with the titular kid (newcomer Jordana Beatty) enjoying her last day as a third grader. Summer vacation is upon her, but she’s concerned it might not be as ‘way-not-boring’ as she hopes (exactly how a third-grader could look at summer vacation as anything other than the Best. Thing. Ever. isn’t clear).
Judy devises a chart full of dares and thrills that she and her friends will spend the next three months trying to complete. When two of the four kids bail (for Borneo and Circus Camp respectively), though, Judy is ready to pack it in. Then she gets the even worse news that a family emergency is taking her parents away to California, requiring Aunt Opal (Heather Graham) to move in for the summer. After initially threatening to lock herself in her room for the duration, Judy finally emerges for what becomes a summer for the ages.
Aunt Opal turns out to be way cool and more than willing to help Judy zip her way through the Thrill Chart. Even better, Judy’s younger brother Stink (Parris Mosteller) is leaving her alone, since he’s off on a quest to find Bigfoot. Sure, not all her thrills go as planned (the roller coaster one is marred by her friend’s mid-hill vomit), but Judy keeps plugging away, and more adventures are around every corner.
McDonald, who co-wrote the screenplay with Kathy Waugh (TV’s Peep and the Big Wide World, Arthur) keeps the action coming fast and furious. While adults may find themselves wanting the craziness to pause for, oh, at least a few minutes, kids will have a field day. (Seriously, have you seen an episode of Phineas and Ferb?) The dialogue in Judy Moody is often silly and never comes close to the intelligence level of, say, Rango or Rio, but it’s hip enough for kids to be interested and simple enough for them to follow.
Beatty shows promise as an emerging young starlet, and Graham brings the right amount of goofiness to her part. Even Jaleel White (of “Urkel” fame), while underused as Judy’s teacher, has a rollicking good time.
Director John Schultz (Aliens in the Attic) creates a bubble gum world that is perfect for the target audience, and it’s punctuated by some nifty animated sequences highlighting Judy’s vivid imagination. Even though parents might exit the theater wondering how many cans of Coke and packets of sugar Schultz must have downed during filming, they can rest easy knowing their kids had a truly not-bummer time.