About halfway through Judy Moody and the NOT Bummer Summer, a bouncy house inexplicably gets attached to the back wheel of a station wagon. The vehicle thunders down a side street, castle in tow, and makes a sharp right hand turn, sending the moon bounce tumbling turret over teakettle onto an adjacent lawn. A little kid emerges, maybe six years old, with the biggest smile on his face I have ever seen. As a responsible twenty-something, I’m horrified at how close that kid must have come to snapping his neck, but as someone who remembers the lust for childhood adventure, I can’t help but smile. It’s moments like these that make NOT Bummer Summer pop. Unfortunately, this impulse to reflect the world through adolescent eyes is never developed into a consistent theme, depriving Judy Moody of any substance.
Children typically don’t negotiate world peace. They don’t divulge nuclear secrets nor do they enact legislation. They exist close to home, within a sphere that usually has no impact outside their immediate circle of friends, but that lack of importance to the larger world is meaningless. The goals, dreams and aspirations of a child are just as important to him or her in the moment as any world leader’s immediate or long-term visions. Thus, the mission of any children’s movie is to make you care as much as that child about whatever the longing is. Judy Moody and the NOT Bummer Summer never does that. It’s too disjointed and disorganized. What starts off as a goal to gain summer "thrill points" ultimately morphs into a story about catching Bigfoot, rendering the first half an unnecessary prequel and the back half a frenzied afterthought. At times, Judy Moody sparkles with the wide-eyed excitement of a child, but more often than not, like the protagonist’s little brother, it’s just immature and messy.
Judy Moody (Jordana Beatty) is determined to have a NOT bummer summer. With the final day of school approaching, she’s organized a can’t-miss-has-to-be-awesome checklist of dares for her and her friends to complete during their extended vacation. Unfortunately, her never-lame best friends Rocky (Garrett Ryan) and Amy (Taylar Hender) forgot to tell her they’re being lame and going to circus camp and Borneo, respectively. Dejected and miserable at the thought of only having her annoying other friend Frank (Preston Bailey) and her little brother Stink (Parris Mosteller) to hang out with, Judy begs her parents to let her attend circus camp. They’re not having it a) because it sounds dangerous and b) because Aunt Opal (Heather Graham) is coming to stay for the summer. They’ve been called away on a family emergency in California, leaving mom’s hippy sister to oversee the house.
Aunt Opal may not be the best cook, housekeeper or disciplinarian, but she’s sure a lot of fun to hang out with. Offering a book on Bigfoot for Stink and a mood ring for Judy, she quickly wins the children’s affections and convinces Judy to email her friends and continue with the dares long distance. They’re game, but as Amy and Rocky pile up their own thrill points, Judy starts to looe faith in herself. Every one of her adventures goes horribly wrong and before she knows it, the end of summer is just weeks away. It might just be Bigfoot or nothing.
I love the idea of an energetic girl, her little brother and a goofy aunt spending the summer trying to catch Bigfoot. It sounds like the type of nonsense I may have gotten up to as an idealistic third grader. The problem is Judy doesn’t really want to catch Bigfoot. She just wants to win that stupid thrill points contest she proposed earlier in the summer, and without her full investment in the goal at hand, it’s impossible for the audience to care. Children frequently have short attention spans. One day they want to join the band, the next they want to play baseball-- just fine in real life, but within the context of a movie, those scatter-brained natures come off as boring and fleeting. There has to be something to tie the whole thing together, and the thrill points chart isn’t fortified enough to hold for an hour and a half.
Like the smiley, unnamed kid dragged along in that bouncy house, Judy Moody is filled with plenty of non-plot essential asides. Now and again they work, but more often they don’t. On several occasions during the movie, animation dream sequences are interspersed. There’s even a few times words pop up on the screen, but without real rhyme or reason, they mostly feel out of place, hurried and messy. It’s a shame. There are enough good ideas present in Judy Moody to offer an engaging film. Maybe next summer…