Walden has just about mastered the art of turning the very best in children’s literature into very fine family films. It doesn’t get any better than Beverly Cleary’s marvelous series of books about Ramona Quimby and her family, and here director Elizabeth Allen (who showed a gift for stories about young girls with “Aquamarine”) brings them to life in a way that both fans and those new to the characters will enjoy.
Joey King is just right as Ramona, age 9 years and 3 months, a girl with a big imagination and an even bigger heart, both of which get her into trouble when she tries to help out without thinking things through. As in the books, the Quimby family is instantly relatable and utterly irresistible, funny, touching, and completely endearing.
It helps to have first-class talent among the adult performers. John Corbett (“Sex and the City” and “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”) and Bridget Moynahan capture the believably lived-in feeling of experienced parents who are almost always there when needed and are always ready to be captivated by their kids. The always appealing Josh Duhamel as the uncle of the kid next door and Ginnifer Goodwin as Ramona’s beloved Aunt Bea make their love story work while keeping the focus on Ramona and her view of the world.
Ramona’s perspective is expertly handled, and some of the best moments give us the world through her imaginative point of view, whether turning a hole in her house during construction into a portal into adventure or believing that an embarrassing moment on the jungle gym is a humiliation heard around the world. The harshest criticism of Walden’s faithful adaptations of children’s literature classics is to say that they are a little too faithful. They err on the side of literalism rather than taking greater liberties to get the benefit of the full range of cinematic storytelling. That saps some dramatic tension from the movie, making it feel a little too episodic and discursive. But if it re-creates the feeling of the book that way and especially if it inspires young viewers to read it for the incomparable pleasure of Beverly Cleary’s writing, then that is fine with me.