JUDY MOODY AND THE NOT BUMMER SUMMER is a diverting flick, full of bright colors and lively animation, that is calibrated to synch up with, and only with, the attention span of smaller children. The characters are of the stock variety, but, in the spirit, if not the strict interpretation, of the Cammedia dellArte, they are a pleasing bunch that are the perfect group to populate a kid-friendly, non-challenging, summer entertainment.
The title character, played by Jordana Beatty with a mop of red hair topped by an insistent curl on top of her head, is determined to avoid the boredom of the usual summer. She uses her considerable organization skills to devise a plan that will render it the titularly non-bummer. Charts, challenges, and a clever system of thrill points awarded for dares completed give Judy and her pals adventures aplenty, and a competition to win. Alas, one of them is whisked away to Borneo in search of a lost tribe, a sure thrill points magnet, while another is whisked to circus camp, where the curriculum of tightrope-walking and such will be an equal magnet. It gets worse. Her parents (Kristoffer Winters and Janet Varney) are off to California, leaving Judy and her annoying younger brother, Stink (Pariss Mostoller) in the care of her long-lost Aunt Opal (Heather Graham), a free spirit who is fun, but not necessarily the textbook definition of a responsible adult. A guerilla artist, world traveler, and uncertain driver, she is gung-ho to help Judy score her thrill points, and equally so to help Stink uncover the mystery surrounding the numerous Bigfoot sightings in their neighborhood of Frog Neck Lake, VA.
Subtlety finds no purchase here. Bold broad strokes characterize the humor, the emphatic performances, the simple plot, and the colors, which in Judy’s wardrobe tends towards the kaleidoscopic, and in the food category towards hues of vivid blues when not capering with tangerine fondue. The fun factor, though, is high as director John Schultz spares little time with logic and homes in on anything that moves, all with a view to keeping it in motion. Quick cuts, the liberal use of slightly skewed perspective, and a frank appreciation for the simplicity of his story give the whole an innocent playfulness. Even Graham, in her very short shorts and buffeted with the occasional tight top, has a disingenuous air of unimpeachable wholesomeness all the more remarkable for being essayed by the actress who so vividly brought the porn-star Roller Girl to life in Paul Anderson’s BOOGIE NIGHTS.
There are the usual delightful pratfalls and inventively trashed living spaces with the added piquancy of a Bigfoot chase that includes both cranberries >and< peanut butter. The ancillary quest to find Mr. Todd (Jaleel White), the coolest teacher ever, who has left Judy and her classmates tantalizing clues about where he will be spending the summer with the promise of a prize for finding him makes for a nifty subplot. Judy’s musings, good and bad, from full-blown daydreams to thrill points drifting just beyond her reach, are rendered with clever animation as are the definitions of words that are also nifty.
Nothing about Judy’s summer works out quite as planned, in contrast to a story that follows a formula that is as comforting in its own way as it is predictable. The predictability includes the summer turning out better than Judy could ever have hoped, of course. Its hard to fault the cheesy cheeriness at work here, but this should not in any sense be confused with a great film, or even a good one from the adult point of view, and they should consider themselves warned when it comes to making the decision to take it on.