Judy Moody and the NOT Bummer Summer
Fiery-haired and fiery-spirited third-grader Judy Moody is determined to have the "best, most way un-boring summer ever." Her plan seems foolproof: inviting her best friends to participate in her "Judy Moody Mega-Rare NOT Bummer Summer Dare!" For each dare they complete—stuff like riding an elephant, surfing a big wave, sitting through a scary movie, taking the plunge on the Scream Monster roller coaster—they'll collect 10 thrill points. Whoever amasses the most points wins.
Sounds fun, right?
Except that it isn't fun! Two of Judy's three best buds, it turns out, already have even more thrilling summer plans. Amy's off to Borneo with her mom, who's working to save a struggling indigenous tribe there. Rocky's parents are sending him to circus camp. "How am I supposed to have the best summer ever if you're not even here?" Judy laments. Snapping into instant pout mode, she says she hopes Rocky spends the next three months scooping up elephant poop.
Judy will spend those months stuck with her timid, decidedly un-daring friend Frank. And her pesky little brother, Stink, who's obsessed with tracking Bigfoot (as is his friend Zeke, an adolescent, self-styled Sasquatch expert who works at the local pet shop). And just when Judy thinks summer's prospects can't get any worse, they do: Mom and Dad announce that they're headed to California to care for Judy's ailing grandpa. By themselves. As for Judy and Stink? They'll spend the dog days of June, July and August with Aunt Opal … whom they've never met.
"This is the way worst, double-drat bummer summer ever!" Judy proclaims.
But when Aunt Opal shows up, well, she's unlike anyone Judy's ever met. Whatever else she may be, Aunt Opal is most definitely not boring. And she's not about to let anyone mope their way through a bummer summer.
Opal is a free spirit, a cross between something out of a Lewis Carroll tale and Willy Wonka. And upon arrival she immediately invites Judy and Stink into a creative, nonstop adventure.
In some ways, Opal's an overgrown kid herself: She can barely drive; her culinary skills involve combining Fruit Loops, hot dogs and Jell-O; and she turns the entire Moody house into a messy, multilevel art project. That said, she has a delightful way of coaxing Judy out of her self-absorption. In the end, Judy realizes that even though she and Frank don't score the most thrill points—mostly because Frank's fears keep sabotaging their endeavors—what really matters is enjoying each other and each day's adventures as they come.
The film also offers a winsome glimpse of what childhood was like before all the techno-gadgets invaded it. Judy emails her friends once or twice, a wink at the reality of online life today. But gizmos are not the focal point of their lives. There's nary a cellphone, text message or video game to be seen. Instead, Judy and her gang hang out in the backyard, go exploring in the woods around the house, catch toads, rendezvous at their club's HQ (a tent), go camping and make stuff. In all of this, Judy Moody presents a wonderfully anachronistic picture of childhood, reminding us of what growing up 30 or 40 or 50 years ago (at least in some parts of the country) was like. Judy, Stink and Frank have loads of freedom to explore their physical and relational worlds, instead of being hemmed in by self-focused technology or overbooked summer schedules.
A subplot involves a very positive portrayal of Judy's teacher, Mr. Todd.
Much of the story involves speculation about Bigfoot's existence, and some folks pursuing the mythical creature call themselves the Bigfoot Believers. Opal does yoga, and her apparent attraction to Eastern mysticism rubs off on Stink, who we see emulate her by assuming the lotus position. Judy sticks with her Magic 8 Ball.
Opal wears low-cut tops and short shorts. Sometimes the filmmakers seem to go out of their way to partially cover Opal's tube, tank and spaghetti-strap tops with vests or big, gaudy jewelry, thus rendering her outfits a bit more modest. Other times they don't.
Stink taunts his sister by chanting the "K-I-S-S-I-N-G" rhyme.
Opal's first time behind the wheel in 10 years is nearly disastrous. She hits the garage door. She careens into people's yards, running over kids' toys and dragging a bounce house behind her. (The boy briefly trapped inside thinks it's an awesome ride.) She rams a sign advertising an elephant-riding business, which results in the head and tusks of a faux pachyderm falling and impaling her car's hood.
Later, a reckless chase through town begins on foot, then moves to a bicycle that crashes, then morphs into a full-on car chase. The vehicles involved are not only oblivious to traffic laws, but they tear through a baseball field (where a game is being played) and a fence, too.
Judy and Frank dress up like Frankenstein and the Bride of Frankenstein to go to a old black-and-white zombie movie. They don't stay long (Frank gets scared), but it's long enough to see one zombie lunge at a woman in a car and another lose an eye.
Crude or Profane Language
Opal yelps out the word "crap" at one point, and Stink chastises her, saying, "Crap's a swear." Opal retorts, "Crap is not a swear!" We hear "jeez Louise" and "holy macaroni" twice each. There's a bit of name-calling, but it's all in "bozos" territory.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
Animal excrement gets quite a bit of screen time. Conversations revolve around "elephant poop," "scat," "dung" and "doo-doo." And we see big balls of blackness, supposedly from Bigfoot, one of which inadvertently gets mixed in with some sandwiches. It's a gross-out mistake that's discovered only at the last possible moment. In similar territory, a new member being inducted into Judy's club has to find a toad and hold it … until it pees.
Frank's gluttonous concoction of theme park confections before getting on the Scream Monster roller coaster makes him spew blue-green vomit onto Judy's face and shirt. When one of Opal's art projects results in Judy's hand getting glued to the dining room table, only a spatula and Opal's brute force can pry it free.
Judy and Stink run out into the woods at night—without Aunt Opal—to try to find Bigfoot. And there's a subtle nod to the horror film The Blair Witch Project in the way that they videotape their exploits.
Finally, Opal's lack of real-world grounding offers an appealing but ultimately unhealthy fantasy. She establishes what seems like a boundary-free world for her charges, a world with few limits or consequences. Her creativity is unquestionable. But I also suspect most parents wouldn't like their furniture turned into a Bigfoot statue in the yard, for example, or want their kiddos chowing down on meals composed of hot dogs, Fruit Loops and Jell-O too frequently.
In 2000, children's book author Megan McDonald introduced the world to the feisty, mercurial Judy Moody, a character inspired in part, she says, by her experiences growing up with four older sisters. Nine books and 14 million copies later, Judy is graduating to the screen, after McDonald co-wrote her character's first cinematic script.
The very good news is that Judy Moody and the NOT Bummer Summer is not the way worst, double-drat bummer summer movie ever! That's because it doesn't line up behind the likes of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid flicks. Instead, the friends Judy chooses to hang out with are the kind you might find in Ramona and Beezus, Kit Kittredge and Madeline.
There are a few bumps in the road, taking the form of poop jokes, an eye-popping zombie, Opal's too-snug outfits, a wink at Eastern spirituality and a Bigfoot fixation. Mercifully absent, however, is any real foul language, sexual stuff or inappropriate jokes aimed at adult audiences—no small feat these days. What we get instead is an invitation to recall what life was like before the digital revolution attracted young eyes to all manner of small screens.
"I really wanted Judy to be a contemporary kid, and certainly to use the computer as a tool to look something up," McDonald told Plugged In. "But because I was drawing on my own childhood, where summer was just such a time of wonder, where we were always picking blackberries and watching fireflies at night, I really wanted to create that same kind of summer, where you don't have to have all of your time scheduled or, when it's beautiful out, [you don't have to be] in front of a screen. I wanted to remind kids about forming a club with your friends and catching a toad and crossing a rope over the creek and chasing the ice cream truck and, you know, those sorts of simple things that are really fun."
Judy Moody also reminds us that winning, despite the old cliché, isn't everything—a theme producer Sarah Siegel-Magness talks about in the film's production notes: "I hope kids take away that it's not about the thrill points. It's about the experiences you have trying to get them. It's not about winning the competition, it's about being in the competition and applying that idea to everything you do in life. That's a good lesson for adults, too."
It's those messages that make Judy Moody's movie debut anything but a bummer.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Jordana Beatty as Judy Moody; Heather Graham as Aunt Opal; Parris Mosteller as Stink; Jaleel White as Mr. Todd; Jackson 'Jaxn' Odell as Zeke; Preston Baily as Frank; Garrett Ryan as Rocky; Taylar Hender as Amy; Janey Varney as Mom; Kristoffer Winters as Dad
June 10, 2011
October 11, 2011