Putting the Juvenile in Juvenile Fiction

Recently I came across the trailer for Ramona & Beezus. You may also share in my misery. Disney Channel, why do you hate things that are good? Is it jealousy?

Before I rip the upcoming movie apart, let me heap praises on the source material. Let's begin with Beverly Cleary. When I was a kid, there were only two real authors. Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary. While they both wrote books for kids of both genders, it didn't really make a difference. No matter how much I lauded Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing or The Mouse and the Motorcycle, they were women authors whose most famous books featured girls. It wasn't a good place for a young boy to be, but I didn't care. I was reading, I was happy, screw gender norms.

Ramona Quimby was first featured in the book Henry Huggins. She was a bit character, the younger, preschool kid who often pestered Henry and her older sister Beezus. Beezus was a larger supporting character who apparently struck a chord with readers. Her character was expanded on in the sequel, Henry and Beezus, and by association, so was Ramona.

Becoming something of a cult favorite, in the third sequel/first spinoff, Beezus and Ramona, Ramona was given her first starring role. Reader response was strong, and seven more books were written centering around Ramona, including Ramona the Pest, which many consider to be Cleary's best work (You heard me. Suck it, Dear Mr. Henshaw.) As for Beezus, she was relegated back to her supporting role. Ironically, Henry Huggins became a bit character in Ramona's books, much like Ramona was in his.

Like anything popular and profitable, Hollywood got their grubby mitts on Cleary's bibliography. Before now, Cleary's works have been relegated to ABC Made-for-TV movies, which were really low quality, and seemed insincere. Flash forward to today, and the previously mentioned, forthcoming Ramona & Beezus film. It will also be low quality, insincere, but with a much larger budget.

Let's start with the title. Ramona is the bankable character. She's the one everybody recognizes, she stars in eight books, and that's why the title was reversed to give her top billing. However, in the book Beezus and Ramona, she's only five years old. Kindergarten. And there aren't any bankable actresses that young. Even though Ramona stars in the film, she's not actually starring in the film.

Hence, the second problem. Selena Gomez, the girl with the scary eyebrows who Disney Channel will soon be replacing Miley Cyrus with, has been cast as Beezus. Gomez is a cash-cow. A media whore. If you don't believe me, did you watch the trailer? She introduces the trailer. She appears in the trailer. She is performing the paint-by-numbers theme in the trailer. This isn't an adaptation of Beezus and Ramona, it's Selena Gomez Vanity Project #7. She's not an actress, she's a commodity. Actresses like her are bought and sold, the same as gold or pork bellies.

Problem three, Selena Gomez is Hispanic. Does nobody else see that? Will a major plot point of the film consist of characters wondering why the Quimby family birthed a brown-eyed, wavy/raven-haired daughter of such dark complexion? Her name is Selena freaking Gomez! The only name more Latin is Conzuela Tortilla-Ortiz.

Problem four, and this is the biggie: based on the trailer, the majority of Ramona and Beezus doesn't actually come from Beezus and Ramona. The commercial audition and the largest picture in the world come from Ramona and Her Father. The wedding occurs in Ramona Forever. Ramona running away happens in Ramona and Her Mother. The very fact that the movie has to exorcise material from across the franchise just to fill a single movie does not bode well. There cannot possibly any cohesiveness. It's the cinematic equivalent of Frankenstein's monster. It's just a series of events tenuously strung together with loose regard to an overarching story, if they bother to include one at all.

The works of Beverly Cleary are classics, and deserve better treatment than what is being offered here (If this pattern continues, I anticipate a Dreamworks CGI adaptation of Ralph S Mouse starring Jeff Foxworthy). As a 23 year-old man, I have far too much invested in something tailored for six year-old girls. But I'm not so far gone from childhood that I don't remember wanting, earning, and deserving a minimal amount of respect. A privilege today's children may never experience.