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The Independent Critic

Heather Graham, Jordana Beatty, Kristoffer Ryan Winters, Janet Varney, Parris Mosteller
John Schultz
Kathy Waugh, Megan McDonald
Rated PG
91 Mins.
Relativity Media

 "Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer" Review 
Have you ever found yourself in the kitchen cooking up a meal with all the right ingredients only to find yourself disappointed with the finished product?

That's Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer.

Adapted from a series of childrens' books by Megan McDonald, Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer has all the right ingredients, or so it seems, for an absolutely delightful summer flick for the kiddoes.

So, what happened?

A huge part of the problem with Judy Moody is, quite simply, that director John Schultz simply tries too hard. Virtually every moment of the film feels like it's TRYING to be a spontaneous childhood of celebration. Unfortunately, all the trying becomes tiresome and Judy Moody feels like it's largely comprised of preservatives rather than natural ingredients.

Judy (Jordana Beatty, Legend of the Seeker) is a precocious third-grader determined for once to not have a, you guessed it, bummer summer and concocts an elaborate plan to bring the summer to life with the help of her friends. The only problem is that all of her friends, with the exception of the nerdish Frank (Preston Bailey, The Crazies), have made plans for the summer that don't include Judy. When her parents get called away to care for a family member, Judy's plans are completely blown to smithereens as it appears she'll be stuck at home with her Bigfoot chasing brother Stink (Parris Mosteller) and her eccentric Aunt Opal (Heather Graham).

Even if you've never read a Judy Moody book in your life, there's no question you know where this is all going.

Of course, this IS a kid's film and ultimately what really matters is how well this is all going to work for children. To the benefit of the film, Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer is actually quite well cast with an ensemble that clearly gets what director John Schultz is trying to accomplish with broad comedy, cartoonish production design, appropriately Judy Moody linguistics and an almost freakish devotion to childhood weirdness.

The biggest problem that Judy Moody faces is that in trying so hard to be a classic film for kids, the film's pacing feels almost constantly like it's missing a beat. Even when the film is in a manic phase, which is often, it constantly feels like Judy Moody is running a step behind itself. Schultz rips a page out of Ramona and Beezus, with its occasional intertwining of live-action and animation along with its sporadic childhood fantasy sequences and relatively effective weaving together of childhood innocence and reality. Ramona and Beezus, however, felt more natural and relaxed and authentic in its presentation. Judy Moody is never able to escape the notion that it's actually working overtime to paint its portrait of an innocent yet chaotic childhood.

It's a shame, really, because Jordana Beatty brings a sense of wide-eyed wonder to her portrayal of the iconic childhood character of Judy Moody, and there's no question that the eccentricities of Aunt Opal are perfect for Heather Graham's goofy yet sweet persona. Judy Moody should have "felt" more deeply than it actually did, but one gets the sense that the problem lies squarely within the production values rather than the performances.

Kristoffer Ryan White and Janet Varney are a delight as Judy's parents, though they are out of the picture for the film's mid-section. Parris Mosteller (television's Worst Week) is an appropriately believable little brother whose Bigfoot obsession gives the film many of its cartoonish action sequences and humorous scenes. 90's television super nerd Jaleel White, aka Urkel, even shows up as a banjo strummin' elementary school teacher.

Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer is not, and I should stress this, an awful film. In fact, the vast majority of the younger folks in attendance at the film's recent Indianapolis screening seemingly had a good time with the film's outlandish production design, body fluid humor and ability to tap into that child-like mentality. Yet, what's a decent film almost constantly feels like it should have been a really, really good film. With a tremendous heart and a gentle spirit, there's no question that there's a solid audience for this Relativity Media release. Judy Moody isn't quite a bummer, but neither is it befitting of such a beloved children's series.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic