Directed by: Gabor Csupo
Premise: An adaptation of the children’s book by Katherine Paterson. Jesse (Josh Hutcherson), an artistic young man living in a small midwestern town, befriends Leslie (AnnaSophia Robb), a new neighbor, and the two escape from their lives in an imaginary fantasy world they create in a forest behind their homes.
What Works: Bridge to Terabithia is a film about children, but it is as much for adults as it is for youngsters. The film is similar to Pan’s Labyrinth, although much more family friendly, and it is in part a defense of fantasy as a mechanism for understanding and coping with daily struggles and with life’s bombshells. This is done very well in the second half of the film as Jesse uses his imagination and artistic talents to cope with loss and his fantasy gives him the means to make sense of tragedy and move on. The relationship between Jesse and Leslie is very good. The two child actors are very mature and the writing of their characters is not condescending to children or adults. Robb in particular is very good and she leads the picture, elevating the relationship and making it an authentic depiction of pre-teen romance.
What Doesn’t: The story takes a while to get going and even once it does the bulk of the story is episodic, lacking an overarching narrative goal. Unlike Pan’s Labyrinth, the daily lives of these two children are not very traumatic the film does not create a solid antagonist in the real world nor compelling tasks to be completed in the fantasy world. The story has the nugget of a conflict between Jesse and his father (Robert Patrick), but whenever the film moves toward escalating that conflict, it backpedals and does not allow it to get started. That is a shame, since the film could have had a more significant reconciliation with the father in the end. Also, the fantasy sequences, although well done, do not have much at stake in them because we are constantly reminded that this is not real.
Bottom Line: Bridge to Terabithia is a very nice, family friendly film. Like some recent fantasy films such as The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and last year’s adaptation of Charlotte’s Web, it respects both its child and adult audiences and it respects the genre. While it does not reach the heights of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings or Pan’s Labyrinth, it is a solid film.
Episode: #144 (June 10, 2007)