When the central character in a movie is a precocious child who tends to get into trouble, casting is key. The child actor must be able to play likable but annoying, funny but serious, mature but still a kid.
Joey King is the perfect pick as Ramona Quimby in the new family-friendly "Ramona and Beezus," based on Beverly Cleary's books. Someone should hurry up and invent a time-freezing machine so the young actress can stay this age for future "Ramona" projects (she turns 11 next week).
The "Ramona" screenplay by Laurie Craig and Nick Pustay throws out a host of emotional challenges for Joey, from major family disasters to one of the worst school-picture days in history. The young actress handles each with an ease that is way beyond her 11 years.
Joey plays the role with such sweetness that no matter how much trouble Ramona causes, the audience is always on her side.
Joey gets support from a solid cast, especially Selena Gomez of "Wizards of Waverly Place" fame. If Gomez continues to turn in these kinds of engaging performances, she could easily become the biggest acting star to come out of the Disney Channel studios.
The grown-up supporting players also turn in good performances. There's no dumbing down of the adults to make the children look better in this film.
John Corbett, Bridget Moynahan, Ginnifer Goodwin, Josh Duhamel and Sandra Oh all play fully formed characters who would be interesting even without Ramona around to make their lives a never-ending string of disasters.
Director Elizabeth Allen didn't waste the well-written script and dead-on performances. Her film smoothly travels from serious to silly. She knows just how long to push a scene - especially the more serious material - so it never becomes melodramatic.
It can be the kiss of death to call a movie a "wonderful family film." But everything comes together so magically in "Ramona and Beezus" that young, old and even skeptic teens will enjoy this colorful series of youthful misadventures.