As kids, we had big plans for how we’d spend our summers away from the classroom and out in the big, wide, wonderful world.

Swimming? Check. Popsicles? Double check. Family vacation? Triple-riffic check!

But what happened when your summer just didn’t measure up to all that you had dreamed it would be? We can probably all remember the one that just wasn’t what we’d call the greatest. Nope. It was more like “bummer.”

Judy Moody is right there with you. And in the new Relativity Media film, Judy Moody and the NOT Bummer Summer, the quirky, young protagonist with the crazy red curl (played by newcomer Jordana Beatty, Superman Returns) has so many “supermegatotallythrilladelic” plans for what she’ll do when her third-grade school year is over that she doesn’t even know where to begin. And best of all, most of her ideas involve her closest friends, Rocky and Amy. Okay, and maybe second-best friend Frank as well.

Change o’ Plans

But then her world is rocked after Rocky and Amy inform Judy that they, gulp, won’t be in town after all this summer. Rocky’s going away to learn lion-taming at circus camp and Amy’s off to Borneo to help save a lost tribe with her globe-trotting journalist mother.

That leaves Judy. And Frank. And Judy’s pesky little brother Stink (Parris Mosteller, Into the Wild) who just happens to be obsessed with all things Bigfoot. Great. Summer’s officially ruined.

But wait. It’s about to get a whole lot worse before it gets “not bummer.”

When Judy’s parents inform her that they need to leave town to help out one set of grandparents in California, Judy finds out that she’ll be left at home alone with Stink and some relative named Aunt Opal (Heather Graham, The Hangover), who she doesn’t even remember ever meeting.

Nice.

So with melodrama and great sighs o’ plenty, Judy resigns to spending the rest of summer in her room (the sign she’s made and affixed to her bedroom door tells us so), where she’s cleverly outfitted it to meet every need she could ever possibly have—including a clever pulley system outside her upstairs window that will allow her to retrieve her meals, that naturally Stink will have to help deliver.

But then, something interesting happens. Along comes Aunt Opal. And her gi-normous travelling trunk that’s filled with all sorts of kooky craft supplies and objects from her travels to strange lands. She’s a free spirit, for sure, and calls herself a “guerilla artist” since she does her art “under the radar.” Anything and everything can become a work of genius in her uninhibited world.

So maybe summer’s not going to be so bummer after all.

Opalesence Awesomeness

“Aunt Opal’s a great character,” explains author, screenwriter and former children’s librarian Megan McDonald who created the best-selling Judy Moody young adult book series upon which the film is based. “She was kind of inspired by my sister who showed up at my house once for a visit. She had this huge, huge suitcase and my husband could barely even lift it to get it into the house. And she unzips it and out came all these art supplies and soldering irons and all this stuff she wanted to have to just have fun making art.

“I love Judy’s parents,” McDonald continues. “But they have to be about rules and bedtimes and all of that stuff. So I wanted to get them off stage [in the screenplay] and let this kind of artistic, kooky, fun-loving aunt come in and be almost like a grown-up Judy.”

At this point, it’s understandable if parents are thinking: Great! Another film where the kids are savvy and in control and the adults look and act like imbeciles. But it’s not. If anything, Judy Moody and the NOT Bummer Summer shows how an imaginative child learns to make the most of her unexpected summer, resolves conflict with a friend and even has fun while growing up a little in the process.

“It’s real kids and real family and every day,” McDonald says. “[The film] is kind of set apart because it’s live action, and there’s some animation when it goes into Judy’s imagination. But I also think it’s fun to just kind of go back to simpler times in a way of that everyday childhood. It helps kids to really connect with Judy as a character, because [she’s going through] things that any everyday kid would go through.”

As Judy, Jordana Beatty agrees that the film is fun and “good for all ages—and even your parents will like it.” While Stink's Parris Mosteller simply says it’s great “because it’s mostly kids.”

Got Thrill Points?

As the star character of Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer, Judy and her crazy, mix-and-match outfits are present in every scene of the film. And her creative juices really get flowing as the pace quickens when Judy has to resort to Plan B for her summer endeavors. By devising a “Not Bummer Summer Dare” thrill-point race, she’ll surely still have fun while keeping in touch with her best friends through e-mail and snail mail as they rack up thrill points of their own. 

It all sounds well and good until Judy’s attempts to achieve these thrills just don’t pan out quite the way she planned. Riding the Scream Monster rollercoaster just ends up with Frank losing his lunch, and his cotton candy, and his hotdog and his ice cream and everything else he’s been eating at the amusement park as he and Judy take their first dive downward.  Ewww.

Splashing around at Surf-a-Wave doesn’t help Judy gain any extra thrill points either. And neither does trying to cross the creek in her backyard via tightrope before falling in the shallow mud and muck. She’s a bit bummed, but still not defeated. Maybe dressing up in scary garb and attending the “Evil Creature Double Feature” at the local cineplex with Frank will be just what will give her the thrill points she so desperately needs for a not bummer summer.

But when Frank gets cold feet and isn’t so jazzed about being scared by a creepy motion picture in a dark theater, Judy loses her optimism and her frustrations, as she lets him have it. After telling Frank that he’s deserting her and that Rocky and Amy would have never done that, the spineless sidekick does something that maybe no one anticipated: Frank finds his backbone and calls Judy a “fun sponge,” because she sucks the fun out of everything with her “stupid” thrill points race.

No Fun for a Sponge

“Well, are you a fun sponge?” asks Aunt Opal later on in a scene when Judy is sulking in her room at home. It’s a great moment of reflection for this unlikely, yet loveable, role model for impressionable boys and girls.

“I think the scene with the fun sponge is such a turning point for Judy,” McDonald explains. “I think it’s the moment where she realizes that having a plan with points and dares and charts really isn’t working. She and Frank have a falling out at that point, and it takes a little bit for it to sink in.”

McDonald points to Aunt Opal’s gentle guidance as the key in helping Judy to see that she can’t control everyone or everything in life.

“Judy tells her that she’s mad her friend called her a fun sponge. And Aunt Opal says, ‘Well are you a fun sponge?’ And that line just give me goose-bumps because it’s really like her aunt inviting Judy to reflect on herself and what she’s been doing. So I love that without preaching or giving her a lecture, Aunt Opal kind of invites Judy to come up with this herself.”

It clicks. And from that moment on, Judy determines she will make the most of her summer and have fun with whatever and whomever is around her—including even Stink who is on the hunt for Bigfoot along with the crazy “Bigfoot Believers Association” group that meets in a special “cave” in the back of the local pet store.

And … Action!

Aunt Opal joins the Bigfooters on their search efforts as well, which involves staying up all night in a tent in the backyard, a scary midnight trek through the woods by flashlight and the making of a giant Bigfoot tribute sculpture in Judy’s front yard which eventually draws the attention of a local news crew and secures Stink and Judy a special on-camera interview. Which then leads to a final crazy car chase through town, following the ice cream man and a furry humanoid passenger that looks strangely enough a whole lot like Bigfoot riding in his van.

In the end, Judy’s summer becomes something she never dreamed of and yet she realizes it was pretty much practically perfect in every way—thanks especially to Aunt Opal who, at the end of the film, talks of maybe taking Judy to Paris next summer where they could “make art” by tying scarves to the Eiffel Tower. Or something like that.

Until then, when asked what they'd recommend for having a “not bummer summer” for this summer, Jordana and Parris have their own ideas for young moviegoers who will come to see their film, as well as fans of the Judy Moody book series.

“Do something they love doing … something they’re good at with their friends,” recommends Jordana. “Or try something new for a change.”

“And don’t do thrill points,” Parris adds. “They always lead to bad stuff.”

 

Rated PG (for some mild rude humor and language) and starring Jordana Beatty, Heather Graham, Jaleel White, Preston Bailey and Parris Mosteller, Relativity Media’s Judy Moody and the NOT Bummer Summer releases wide on Friday, June 10, 2011.  For more information, please visit www.judymoodymovie.com.

Photos courtesy Suzanne Tenner/Relativity Media.