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Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer

(2011) * Pg
91 min. Relativity Media. Director: John Schultz. Cast: Heather Graham, Jordana Beatty, Parris Mosteller, Preston Bailey, Jaleel White.

/content/films/4057/1.jpgMegan McDonald’s Judy Moody series has thus far spawned sixteen books (if you count the spin-off Stink books), so a movie from franchise-hungry Hollywood was inevitable. And now it’s arrived, but unless you’re in third grade, there’s nothing to see here: go back to your homes.

It’d be nice to report that this film with a still-all-too-rare female protagonist is a great time at the movies, but alas, not so much. An outgoing (in both senses of the word) third-grader, Judy Moody (Jordana Beatty) has plotted the best not-bummer summer ever, built around a chart to record “Thrill Points” earned from adventures like riding the Scream Monster (with no hands), surfing a wave, watching a scary movie, and riding an elephant.

Her plans go up in smoke when her best friends (save for Preston Bailey’s nerdy Frank) sheepishly announce they’ll be out of town for the summer, off to their own adventures in Borneo and circus camp. Mortified at the thought of boredom, Judy shuts herself into her room to sulk, until a favorite relative arrives and gives her reason to hope.

This one's harmless enough (except the disconcerting running joke about reckless driving) and probably good for a bit of pleasant brain rot in the tired noggins of newly liberated elementary school kids. On the other hand, with decades of classic family films on home-video tap, this one’s strictly for families whose kids are jumping up and down and fiercely tugging their parents’ limbs.

The film’s second-most-famous face belongs to former sitcom star Jaleel “Urkel” White, which tells you something about the cheapo budget afforded to director John Schultz (Aliens in the Attic). And about why I have never been happier to see Heather Graham, who turns up to play Judy’s hippie-ish, globetrotting, free-spirited Aunt Opal. Though the character is a walking cliché, Graham brings her game face, so, y’know, good for her.

The rest of the cast is an Overactor’s Anonymous meeting waiting to happen, an impression only worsened by the obnoxious characters they’re asked to play and the uncomfortably close close-ups they’re made to endure. Even the sound effects are obnoxious, with plenty of unearthly loud squishy sounds, and seemingly everything gets bedazzled, even garbage can lids. The picture is one big candy-colored eyesore, populated with frowny faces and giant smiles and little in between.

Film critics like to snark about the obviousness of family-film messages, but perhaps the only thing worse is no message at all. Judy Moody offers, “When all else fails, dance,” which I guess has a certain zen appeal, but isn’t exactly a lot to chew on.

[This review first appeared in Palo Alto Weekly.]

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Aspect ratios: 1.85:1

Number of discs: 3

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Street date: 10/11/2011

Distributor: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Fox sends Judy Moody home in a Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy combo pack that ably recreates the theatrical experience of the film. If anything, the picture quality here is yet more sharp and vivid than viewers will remember it being on the big screen: the wild colors pop, detail and texture impress, and contrast is perfect, with light grain keeping the enterprise from having a digital appearance. Sound comes in a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mix that has no problem with the film's demands, though some of the source music has a bit of a harsh edge to it, perhaps due to the source material; rear channels get some mild engagement for ambience, and dialogue is never less than clear.

Fans of Judy Moody will go gaga for the bonus features, including the quiz Join the Toad Pee Club, which rewards viewers for watching and listening to the extras carefully.

The making-of featurette "Judy Moody's Guide to Making a Movie" (23:52, HD) delves (really, delves?) into the production by addressing the story, the cast, and some of the other fun stuff about movies, like sets and special effects.

"Flippin' Out With The Cast" (3:11, HD) puts cameras into the hands of cast members, who make some memories.

Also collected here: "Camryn's 'Wait and See' Music Video" (3:35, HD), brief promo "10 Things You Need To Know About Judy Moody" (5:40, HD), even briefer "Deleted Scenes" (1:22, HD), and the "Theatrical Trailer" (2:21, HD).

Last but not least, the combo pack includes a nifty ten-page activity booklet with puzzles, quizzes, and a Mega-Rare NOT Bummer Summer Dare score sheet, as seen in the film.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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