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Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer

By Pam Glazier · June 13, 2011

It’s hard to believe that the Judy Moody series of books could possibly be as dreadful as the recent movie release Judy Moody and the not so Bummer Summer. This film simply can’t make up its mind about what story it’s actually trying to tell, it takes forever to get started, and once it finally gets moving, it seems to advocate scamming people out of their property, selfishness, recklessly endangering children, and treating others poorly. But it’s ok, you see, because a valuable lesson is learned in the end: if you engage in this kind of behavior, everything will have been worth it, and you’ll get to go to Paris next year.

The film starts on the last day of school, and all the students are excited for summer break. Their teacher, Mr. Todd (Jaleel White), informs them that if they find him over summer break, they’ll get a prize. He then proceeds to sing them a banjo-accompanied song with clues about where he’ll be. Then this is completely forgotten in place of an unending sequence where Judy (Jordana Beatty) discovers that she can’t have the awesome summer she planned because her friends—all except for the dorky Frank (Preston Bailey)—are going away for the summer to have awesome adventures without her. Then her Aunt Opal (Heather Graham) arrives to babysit while her parents get to go off to glamorous California to care for her ailing grandmother. And just for randomness, let’s throw in a high-fiving cat, a Bigfoot obsession for her brother Stink (Parris Mosteller), CGI cartoon renderings of Judy’s imagined moments of greatness, and the unbelievable fact that Judy actually has friends when she’s a control-freak beast of a child.

The film spends a huge amount of time setting up what a horrible person Judy is. There is no empathy for her as she deals with the horrible problem of her friends going away because the only reason it seems to bother her is because she can’t show them up with something better. Any real emotional moments that would get the audience on her side, which are very well delivered by Jordana Beatty, are few and far between; almost inserted as an afterthought. She treats her parents, her aunt, her brother, and the one friend who didn’t go on vacation as rudely as possible and without apologies. So much so that this dragon-type behavior overshadows some of the quaint moments had between the supporting cast.

A lot of money went into the production value and the actors of this film—everything is surreally bright and shiny—but the filmmakers forgot to check if the script was any good beforehand. One gets the idea that this was realized in hindsight by the filmmakers. It was co-written by the original author of the Judy Moody series, which just goes to show that you’ve got to adhere to the rules of the medium you’re working with. It’s imperative that scripts are more tightly written than books because in a film, there’s only so much time.

But let’s get into this whole “adaptation gone wrong” idea. The randomness mentioned earlier is a symptom of trying to cram an entire book into a 90 minute film. You’ve got to cut the non-essentials when adapting, or at least throw them into the background of the points that are actually going to be the main focus of the movie. It would have been very easy to establish the first 30 minutes of this film into five or ten minutes. This would have allowed time to explain the catalyst for Stink’s Bigfoot obsession , a more in depth Act 2 where Judy and Frank could actually have a believable emotional arc, and it would have even left room to show the lessons Judy was supposed to be learning from her aunt. They could have actually taken place on screen, so we could see Judy grow as a character, as opposed to being rewarded for behaving like a foul troll all movie long. The writers should have chosen about five main points from the book they were adapting, and then crafted those points into a fresh story developed within the frame of screenplay narrative structure. If they had done this, they could have kept the feel of the book series while also making a film that stands on its own as an enjoyable, uncluttered, smooth-running story.

As a side note, it has been noted elsewhere that the Judy of this film is sweeter and less sarcastic than the Judy of the book series. This is yet another symptom of failing to adapt properly between media. Most likely, the only probable reason that this film version, though “sweeter” than the book version, comes off as a monster is the author’s lack of internal monologue as a tool.

If your child is ten years old or younger, and they want to see this movie, they will probably like it. The bright colors, puke/fart/poo jokes, circus trip, etc. will distract them into thinking this is a fun movie, but for your sake and sanity, bring a book and wait for them outside.