Judy Moody’s spirited personality and tomboy verve have made the fictional third grader a staple with the elementary school set. Former librarian Megan McDonald has published nine books about Judy since 2000 and five spinoff titles about her little brother Stink. Fourteen million copies of the series are in print and five more Judy Moody books are already slated for publication, including Judy Moody Goes to Hollywood and Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer.
For the new film directed by John Schultz, I propose another title — Judy Moody Goes Hollywood: What a Total Bummer. A garish blend of live action and hideous, rainbow-bright animation, Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer is shrill and charmless. I didn’t believe a word of it. I wanted to spank it and banish it to its room.
Like many popular fictional little girls, Judy (Jordana Beatty) is moody and imperious, but those traits are so much more endearing on the page than on screen; this little girl is just a hyper mini-tyrant. Outrage seems commonplace for Judy, but at this particular moment, she’s infuriated at being stuck in boring old Virginia for the summer with lisping Stink (Parris Mosteller, who looks like a miniature Marine) while her cartoony mom (Janet Varney) and dad (Kristoffer Ryan Winters) attend to an ailing grandparent in California. Her best friends Rocky and Amy are at circus camp and Borneo respectively; only her second-best friend Frank (Preston Bailey) remains.
In order to liven up their summer, they engage in a competition to complete “thrilling tasks” such as surfing, watching scary movies and walking a tight rope. Frank tries to please the impossible to please Judy by participating but finally ends up stomping off with the pronouncement that she’s “like a big wet fun sponge” Wise words, young Frank — if only I hadn’t had to watch you vomit blue sugary substances on a roller coaster. What this girl needs is Mary Poppins to whip her into shape. Instead she gets wacky Aunt Opal (Heather Graham in short-shorts, bustiers under hippy blouses and lots of bracelets), a free spirit who’s freshly returned to the States after included stints in the Peace Corps, exploring the underground art scene in Berlin and doing yoga with Liz Gilbert in Bali. (Okay, I made that last part up.)
The movie is unappealing on so many levels, but its absolute ugliness is a real mystery. Do the filmmakers think children have no taste? Schultz seems to have ordered his director of photography to shoot every character from somewhere south of their chin. Watching from this angle, I felt like the family dog. McDonald might be Beverly Cleary–lite, but there’s no reason the movie has to be this bad. The real shame is the waste of little Jordana Beatty as Judy. She has the looks and confidence of a young Ellen Page and — even in these surroundings — a glimmer of charisma.