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Ramona and Beezus: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy Combo Review

Ramona and Beezus movie poster Ramona and Beezus

Theatrical Release: July 23, 2010 / Running Time: 103 Minutes / Rating: G / Songs List

Director: Elizabeth Allen / Writers: Beverly Cleary (novels); Laurie Craig, Nick Pustay (screenplay)

Cast: Joey King (Ramona Quimby), Selena Gomez (Beatrice "Beezus" Quimby), John Corbett (Robert Quimby), Bridget Moynahan (Dorothy Quimby), Ginnifer Goodwin (Aunt Beatrice "Bea"), Josh Duhamel (Hobart Kemp), Sandra Oh (Mrs. Meacham), Hutch Dano (Henry Huggins), Sierra McCormick (Susan Kushner), Jason Spevack (Howie Kemp), Kate Zenna (Mrs. Kushner), Janet Wright (Grandma Kemp), Ruby Curtis (Willa Jean Kemp)

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and Kelvin Cedeno

Walden Media adds another classic children's literature property to its catalogue with Ramona and Beezus, based on the book series Beverly Cleary introduced in the 1950s. Though the title and the casting of one of the world's most famous teen actors (Selena Gomez) complete with an original end credits song suggest a departure from Cleary's books for big sister Beezus to share the spotlight, that isn't the case.
The focus here remains very much on Ramona Quimby (Joey King), a 9-year-old girl with an active imagination.

Ramona doesn't get glowing report cards like 15-year-old Beezus (Gomez), nor does she get a free pass to act silly like newborn sister Roberta (twins Aila & Zanti McCubbing). But she knows how to have a good time, be it with her best friend Howie (Jason Spevack) or her orange cat Picky Picky (Miller). The Quimby family soon has bigger things to worry about than the concerns of Ramona's teacher Mrs. Meacham (Sandra Oh, "Grey's Anatomy"). Dad (My Big Fat Greek Wedding's John Corbett) has lost his number-crunching job as part of his company's downsizing, forcing the clan to live on Mom's (Bridget Moynahan) salary. Ramona and Beezus aren't sure what that means, but they are discomforted by their parents' hushed talks and unconvincing reassurances.

Ramona thinks she might have the answer to the family's financial troubles, launching a lemonade stand turned car wash business, then deciding to audition at an open casting call for a peanut butter commercial. While the sisters are worried (without good reason) that their parents could be headed for divorce, love begins to blossom for Ramona's beloved Aunt Bea (Ginnifer Goodwin) and her goofy high school sweetheart Hobart (Josh Duhamel) and also for Beezus and lifelong pal Henry Huggins (Hutch Dano), Cleary's first protagonist.

In attempting one of her father's hard-boiled tricks, Ramona Quimby (Joey King) ends up with egg in her nicely-coiffed hair on Picture Day. Oh dear... Impatient big sister Beezus (Selena Gomez) has eyes for Henry Huggins (Hutch Dano), the neighbor boy whose own 1950 book introduced the Quimbys.

Whereas most of today's family films execute a high concept with equal parts comedy and adventure, Ramona and Beezus takes a far more domestic and down-to-earth approach. "Sweet" and "simple" are two adjectives viewers might be most apt to place on the film. They are a nice fit and don't deserve any negative connotations here. The movie isn't unexciting or saccharine. It just sets out to provide a palpable slice of childhood and achieves it without noticeable failings.

It's refreshing to encounter a modern live-action children's movie that isn't concerned with neatly fitting into a genre or containing enough laughs and thrills. By maintaining sincerity and largely avoiding broadness and irony, Ramona provides an experience that all present and former kids can relate to. There's ample appeal to the family scenes that stand as the heart and soul. A house of laughter, compassion, and stable parenting is easier to render artificial than genuine, but Laurie Craig and Nick Pustay's screenplay, Aquamarine director Elizabeth Allen, and the inspiredly assembled cast all strike winning natural tones that make the Quimbys impossible to dislike or disbelieve.

There is a timeless quality to the film befitting of its 60-year-old source material. There is no texting or computing. The incidents dramatized -- cooking mishaps, backyard water fights, music class, piling bills -- are all things that haven't changed much from the youth of Cleary's first generation Baby Boomer readers to today. The unemployed Dad angle has a timeliness to it, but it has little to anchor it to 2010 (the e-word thankfully isn't uttered). Even the Bangles song that doesn't exactly make sense as the anthem of Aunt Bea and Hobart's relationship from "fifteen years ago" isn't familiar or specific enough to tie down to a date.

Love is again in the air for Ramona's Aunt Bea (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Howie's Uncle Hobart (Josh Duhamel), old high school sweethearts back in the '90s. Father (John Corbett) and daughter (Joey King) use their homebound afternoon together to create the longest drawing in the world.

Given a fair amount of attention, that rekindled romance feels like it will play more to adults than young viewers, but it shouldn't tax kids' patience or gag reflexes, for it somehow manages to be just as sweet and charming as everything else here. On the other hand, the movie isn't entirely without some embarrassing moments destined to amuse the little ones.
But grossness is widely avoided; the worst we actually see is a lemonade spit-take, preserving the totally decent vibe and earning the film an increasingly rare G rating (and therefore no detailed content explanation) from the MPAA.

Studios actually often try to avoid G ratings today, perceiving them to contain less commercial value than a PG or PG-13. As the year's top-grossing film by nearly $100 million, Toy Story 3 suggests there's nothing wrong with all-ages appropriateness. Ramona and Beezus made a much smaller impact on the summer box office, however, earning a modest $26 million domestically and barely anything overseas. That intake actually places the film smack in the middle of Walden's output, a far cry from the studio's handful of hits but well above its numerous flops. And with a production budget of just $15 million, Ramona was one of the company's least expensive productions to date.

Against some of the same competition it faced in theaters, Ramona and Beezus debuted last week on DVD and Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy from Walden's new go-to partner Fox. As the previous sentence's bolding indicates, we look at the combo pack here.

Ramona and Beezus: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy artwork -- click to buy combo pack from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

2.40:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
BD: DTS-HD 5.1 (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (French)
DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English), Dolby Surround (French)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled or Captioned
Release Date: November 9, 2010
Suggested Retail Price: $39.99
Three single-sided discs (1 BD-50, 1 DVD-9, and 1 DVD-5 DVD-ROM)
Blue Keepcase
Also available in Standalone DVD ($29.98 SRP)

VIDEO and AUDIO

Ramona and Beezus offers a fine and satisfactory (if not particularly noteworthy) Blu-ray transfer. Sharpness is acceptable throughout. While the picture is occasionally a bit soft, this seems to be an artistic decision as detail and fine film grain are still discernible. Unlike many recent live-action children's films, contrast doesn't seem abnormally blown out. Colors are vivid without any noise, and there are no detectable print or digital flaws. There may not be much to really praise the transfer for, but there's not much to really knock either.

The DTS-HD 5.1 track is similar in quality. Dialogue is consistently clear and natural. That element is pretty front-heavy as are other elements of the track. Surrounds are utilized mainly for the somewhat low-key score and ambience effects. During some of the imagined fantasies, the sound field becomes more active and playful, but for the most part, this is a pretty simple presentation. That's just as well considering the nature of the film itself.

The DVD presentation provides comparable adequacy by its standards. Jaws won't drop over its unexpectedly 2.40:1 widescreen transfer, but it's clean and not without any drawbacks greater than the rare bit of minor aliasing or artifacting. Likewise, the Dolby 5.1 soundtrack does commendable job of distributing dialogue (some of it imperfectly looped), music, and atmosphere without reaching or striving for excellence.

Director Elizabeth Allen explains the filmmaking process as it pertained to this movie in "Show & Tell Film School." In this deleted scene, Ramona and Picky Picky star in a low-tech Royal Peanut Butter commercial from her mind. An unseen John Corbett causes Josh Duhamel and Ginnifer Goodwin to crack up in the gag reel.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

Extras begin with "Show & Tell Film School" (7:00). Hosted by director Elizabeth Allen, this kid-oriented piece provides an encouraging overview of the filmmaking process, covering storyboards, screen tests, and staging sequences.

Next come four worthwhile deleted scenes (4:10): a Ramona commercial fantasy, a father/daughter tuck-in, and two from the closing sequence.

A gag reel (2:48) opens and closes with laughter and gaiety, while in between supplying some moderately amusing bloopers and banter.

Sitting near a doll of her heroine, 94-year-old author Beverly Cleary reveals the Ramona world's real-life inspirations in "My Ramona." Runaway Ramona passes the Statue of Liberty in mind clouds while sisters Ramona and Beezus get along on the DVD's main menu.

"My Ramona with Author Beverly Cleary" (4:12) interviews the nonagenarian author, who recalls the origins of the character
and ruminates on her enduring popularity. It's great she's lived to see one of her works adapted to film, although she hardly mentions this.

The theatrical trailer for Ramona and Beezus (1:42) is kindly provided and includes some alternate/deleted bits.

The Blu-ray exclusives start with three additional deleted scenes (1:57).

The brief but interesting "Selena and Joey Audition Footage" (1:51, HD) shows the two young lead actresses testing with two different scenes. They've got a good understanding of their characters from the get-to, with their performances not straying far from this (although King is blonde here).

The final Blu-ray-exclusive is "Fox Movie Channel Presents: Life After Film School with Director Elizabeth Allen" (22:02, SD), which may have been created for promotional purposes, but is filled to the brim with worthwhile content. Allen chats with three film students about her career, starting with her time in college and ending with her work on Ramona and Beezus. She shares good information on the challenges of directing, and to add value to the piece, some of her more outlandish Ramona anecdotes that were caught on camera are presented. It's both entertaining and substantial.

The digital copy is given its own disc, useful only in DVD-ROM drives.

The Sneak Peek menu holds individually and collectively viewable ads for Tooth Fairy, Space Chimps 2: Zartog Strikes Back, Flicka 2, Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and Fox Family Favorites. Both the DVD and Blu-ray open with a promo for Fox Digital Copies and trailers for Rio, Marley & Me: The Terrible 2's, and Marmaduke.

The main menu displays Ramona's imaginative visions next to a cheery pic of the titular sisters. The Blu-ray's pop-up menus are designed on scraps of paper, formatted in Fox's usual, tiresome way of one subselection at a time within a tiny window.

With a swinging tray, the three discs fit into a standard slim blue keepcase with your digital copy insert doubling as a coupon for $3 off one of four Fox family Blu-ray titles.

Quimby sisters Beezus (Selena Gomez) and Ramona (Joey King) spend a quiet moment together outside contemplating their parents' hushed tones inside their under-construction home.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Ramona and Beezus provides a faithful and suitable filming of Beverly Cleary's books. It's tough to imagine a much more satisfying adaptation of the series. With the short-lived late-'80s Sarah Polley PBS TV series still not on DVD, this is your easiest way to see the stories brought to life.

In presentation and extras, Fox's combo pack is pretty ordinary. Like anywhere else, leaving bonus features off the DVD merely to make the Blu-ray look better annoys. But at least both discs do okay with their modest offerings. This pleasant, genial production earns a gentle recommendation.

More on the Combo Pack / Buy from Amazon.com / Buy the DVD / The Books by Beverly Cleary

Buy from Amazon.com

Related Interview: Joey King, star of Ramona and Beezus

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Ramona and Beezus Songs List (in order of use):

Aly & AJ - "Walking On Sunshine"
The Bangles - "Eternal Flame"
The Deekompressors - "Peanut Butter Jingle"
Skye Sweetnam feat. Tim Armstrong - "(Let's Get Movin') Into Action"
"Three Little Birds"
Mat Kearney - "Edge of the World"
OK Go - "Here It Goes Again"
Taylor Swift - "A Place in This World"
Rob Laufer - "How I Love You"
Ingrid Michaelson - "Everybody"
The Seventeens - "Picking Me Up"
Michael Franti & Spearhead - "Say Hey (I Love You)"
Selena Gomez - "Live Like There's No Tomorrow"

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Reviewed November 17, 2010.



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