When I first heard about this film, it was pitched to me as Adventures in Babysitting, only rated “Family” instead of “Parental Guidance”. This is certainly not a fair comparison, since Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer is certainly its own film. Channeling long-forgotten kid favourites like The Sandlot and some never-to-be-forgotten favourites like The Goonies , this film will leave your kid (or the kid in you!) feeling happy, confident and ready for a totally not bummer summer of your own.
Judy Moody is a rambunctious, vivacious girl who lives with her parents and brother, Stink. On the last day of school, Judy springs from class ready to have an “extrathrilladelic” summer with her friends, complete with a super smart plan to keep things from not being totally boring that includes dares for everyone, thrill points if you do the dares, bonus points for doing something extra, and loser points for doing something not awesome. The plan goes all wrong when two of her friends declare that they’ll be away for the summer (one at circus camp and one in Borneo), and the summer looks hopelessly uneventful when Judy’s parents tell her that they won’t be going to the cottage. Instead, her parents are going to California to help her grandparents and she will be staying with her Aunt Opal. All hope seems lost until Aunt Opal turns out to be an awesome world-traveling guerrilla artist and Judy figures out a way to still compete for dares and thrill points with her friends. Does this mean that summer can be saved from being a total bummer?
As the film starts it reeks of the kind of children’s film that has been made of late: overly coloured, overly quirky for the sake of being quirky, and pandering to the lowest common denominator in its audience. The film takes its time to ease the viewer into the idea that this is an adventure movie about a fully formed character and will not compromise in its quest to not underestimate its audience. Unlike so many children’s movies today that feed a culture of entitlement by overtly, plainly, unmissably stating that everyone is perfect just the way they are (see Kung Fu Panda , Monsters vs. Aliens , Shark Boy and Lava Girl , etc), this film simply demonstrates that Judy is an unusual girl who has very age-appropriate feelings, thoughts, and imagination. There’s no real rivalry with “mean girls” in the film, instead the rival is the quest for fun. Overall, the relationships demonstrated in the film are astonishingly real.
The “realness” of the film may be one of the reasons that the film is not being received very well by critics. As I sat watching I had a raging internal battle: many of the things they show Judy doing are things that my overprotective mothering voice told me were wrong, while the kid in me was awash in memories of being out in undeveloped fields and forested areas in my neighbourhood — totally unsupervised and having the time of my life. It’s true, the relationship that Judy has with her brother, parents, Aunt Opal and friends have been dramatized (well, actually, overdramatized), but that’s entertainment. Instead of overblown nonsense, I saw a realistic picture of a family today; something we see so rarely on the screen, especially for children.
The cast does an excellent job of inhabiting this rich world. Aunt Opal is played warmly and competently by Heather Graham, while Judy’s teacher is played by perfectly Jaleel “Steve Urkel” White. Judy herself is played by Jordana Beatty, who is sure to have a long career in showbiz, given the sheer amount of zest and life there is crammed into her wee body.
Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer is a truly great kids movie, and one that every parent should take their kids to see pre-summer. Not only will your kids be excited and inspired, you’ll have tons of fun yourself — and maybe you’ll get a sneak peak of what you’re in for yourself this summer.
**If I could have written this review with glitter pen, I would have. It would have been totally ultra-rare.