Bridge to Terabithia
Jeff Stockwell, David Paterson (Novel by Katherine Paterson)
Josh Hutcherson, AnnaSophia Robb, Zooey Deschanel, Robert Patrick, Bailee Madison, Kate Butler, Devon Wood, Emma Fenton, Grace Brannigan, Latham Gaines, Judy McIntosh, Lauren Clinton
PG (For thematic elements including bullying, some peril and mild language)
I’ve never been a fan of children’s films. Most often, they spend so little time on plot that what results is a merchandising effort aimed at kids. Every so often, a film comes along that defies expectations and reaches out to adults more so than it does to kids. Bridge to Terabithia is based on the beloved children’s literary classic.
Focusing on the film’s two adolescent characters, Terabithia, explores the life of a poor young boy whose life is changed when he meets a freewheeling girl who has moved in next door. Jesse Aarons (Josh Hutcherson) is the only boy out of five children. While his family is incredibly close, his father (Robert Patrick) makes it quite clear that he expects a great deal out of his only son.
That tall order makes Jesse feel like he has few choices and gives him a rather fatalistic view of life. That is until he makes friends with Leslie Burke (AnnaSophia Robb) who’s moved into the vacant house next door with her artistic parents. They form a quick and powerful bond as friends whose only way of escaping reality is an imaginary land called Terabithia where the forces of evil are threatening to destroy their tiny kingdom.
The two of them take the things that bother them in the real world and make them into villains and friends in their imaginary world. Bridge to Terabithia has more in common with the darker Pan’s Labyrinth than it does with the glossy Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Children’s entertainment producer Gabor Csupo (Rugrats and The Wild Thornberrys) makes a smashing directorial debut conveying several complex themes into a big screen marvel.
When I first saw the preview, Chronicles of Narnia crept into my mind. It didn’t help the fact that my friends were largely unfamiliar with the literary source material and had decided to see the film based on the trailer and not on any familiarity with the subject matter. They wanted to see it and I was dragged along despite extreme misgivings. I’m thankful they did.
There are so many wonderful elements to the film, but the most striking is how attached I became to the characters. Had I read the book, I might not have been as engaged as I was, but I think the film accomplishes a great deal. Robb delivers one of the most amazing performances of a child I have seen in recent years. Alongside Pan’s Ivana Baquero, Robb is one of those young actresses whose talent is so natural and unassuming that you don’t question whether they are acting or performing.
Dakota Fanning is a talented little girl, but every time I see her, I know that she’s just performing for an audience. Most often it’s cute and enjoyable, but when it comes down to depth and substance to her characters, the quality is just missing. With Robb, there’s little question that you’re seeing an actor. She digs into her character and makes you believe she and it are one in the same.
There are some strikingly powerful scenes in the film that set it apart from similar productions. Films like Lassie and I Am Sam lay on the emotional schmaltz so thickly that you almost feel insulted that the director believes you need to be forced. Bridge to Terabithia doesn’t feel that way. The film flows effortlessly to its conclusion without preaching. Even the final scenes, which could have ruined everything that preceded them, are absolutely captivating.
Through the amazing characterizations, the gentle way it approaches the subject of death and its sly manipulation of the reality-fantasy question, Bridge to Terabithia is both intellectually and emotionally satisfying. Anyone who enjoys a wonderful story told well should find enjoyment in the film.
May 19, 2007