Back in my early tweens - of course, we were just called kids in those days - I devoured the adventures of my spunky, mischievous and amazingly strong fellow redhead Pippi Longstocking in Astrid Lindgren's novels and the dubbed version of the totally awesome 1960s Swedish TV series.
So this summer's big-screen debut of Judy Moody - the spirited, red-haired third-grade heroine of Megan McDonald's wildly popular tween-lit series - brings on a wave of nostalgia accompanied, unfortunately, by a great big yawn that will surely be experienced by parents hoping for a spark of irreverence à la Pippi or the broad comic appeal found in most theatrical family fare these days.
Aimed squarely at the tween set, Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer is not an adaptation of one or more of the novels, but rather a brand-new tale scripted by McDonald and Kathy Waugh (writer for kids shows like Big & Small, Curious George and Arthur). The movie expands the roster of familiar characters to include Aunt Opal (Heather Graham unleashing her inner child), who shows up to mind Judy (Jordana Beatty) and her younger brother Stink when their parents are suddenly called away to care for a sick relative.
This is just the latest in a string of bummers for moody Judy, who had mapped out a summer of "thrill-point" mega-dares for the gang only to find out one best friend is off to circus camp, the other to Borneo. She is left with the nerdy and skittish Frank and her Bigfoot-obsessed little brother. Thankfully, her bohemian aunt turns out to be an expert at making lemonade (figuratively speaking, of course).
But despite its dazzling candy-coloured look and non-stop array of madcap high jinks, silly business and gross-out moments (blue puke on the roller coaster, bird poop on the sandwiches), Not Bummer Summer will have adult viewers drifting and noticing disturbing things like, hey, Aunt Opal doesn't remind the kids to put on their seatbelts before tearing up the neighbourhood like a maniac and flipping some kid's bouncy castle into the middle of the street without stopping to see if he's okay.
The kid survives and so will you, but it's doubtful this movie will see its way to a sequel. The best thing about Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer is the engaging performance of red-haired Aussie starlet Beatty, who will play the titular star in Eloise in Paris. We can only hope that film sticks to the book.
Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer
- Directed by John Schultz
- Written by Megan McDonald and Kathy Waugh
- Starring Jordana Beatty and Heather Graham
- Classification: G
Special to The Globe and Mail