Bridge To Terabithia
Growing up way before the video game era my childhood memories included something very special; recollections of imagination. Back then an appliance box was a space ship, a pile of sofa cushions a fort and the cardboard tube in a roll of paper towels could be a telescope. We didnít have megabytes and pixels, we had our imagination. This is the first thing that came to mind as I watched ĎBridge to Terabithiaí. Although this was marketed somewhat deceptively as a magical world like the Harry Potter films or the Chronicles of Narnia, it is in fact much simpler and in that lies its strengths as a film. There are scenes that are done with computer graphics but the story is based right here in the real world. It is refreshing to see a film primarily for children that encourage them to use their imagination instead of sitting passively while the special effects do all the work. This is also a film that adults can truly enjoy as well. Terabithia returns us to a simpler time and place where the mind of a child was the most powerful thing imaginable. It is a shame that the studio marketing people felt that they had to disguise the wonder of this film in the trailers and other promotions. Kids donít want to see something that isnít a special effects spectacular. This film not only deserves to be seen but them it is a necessity; perhaps it can let them know it is okay to use your mind and imagination.
For Jesse Aarons (Josh Hutcherson) eighth grade is difficult. Itís not that the work is beyond him, he just happens to be one of the brighter students; itís more that he is a very bashful boy who comes from a financially strapped family. There is one thing that Jesse is sure of; he is the fastest kind in school. When the schoolís athletic day comes around he is challenged by a new girl in school, Leslie Burke (AnnaSophia Robb). Although the races were intended as a male only event she enters and easily wins. Initially, Jesse is quite upset with being beaten by a girl. He tries to distance himself from the newcomer but Leslie needs a friend in the new school and has targeted Jesse as some sort of kindred spirit. Eventually, Jesse warms up to the persistent Leslie. She is able to slowly pull Jesse out of the shell he typical keeps to. As their friendship grows they discover something in common. Jesse enjoys drawing, usually scenes strange and unusual places. Leslie has a vivid imagination and can concoct elaborate tales of fantasy and whimsy. This is a much needed diversion; home life for Jesse is difficult. His father Jesse Senior (Robert Patrick) tries his best to provide for his family but as it is he can barely scrape by. Still, there is love in the family. Jessesí younger sister, May Belle (Bailee Madison) looks up to her older brother. She is upset that she is never allowed into the fantasy world of Jesse and Leslie.
Jesse and Leslie take an after school walk in the woods when they come across a rope swing. They use it to cross a stream although Leslie has some trepidation. On the other side discover an old tree house. There they begin to build their own fantasy world, Terabithia. This is a truly wonderful place where they are not only accepted they are popular. It is filled with magical creatures like tree trolls and sinister squirrels. There the two friends are able to act up the problems of the day and get away from reality for a little while. This fantasy world also strengthens them to cope in school with the onslaught of the ever present bullies. They take the courage they find in Terabithia and use it to plot against the school tough kids. The schoolís music teacher, Ms. Edmunds (Zooey Deschanel) notices that Jesse has a real flair for art and arranges for a trip to a local museum. He has a crush on her and doesnít want Leslie along and that leads to one of the more dramatic twists in the film.
The main target audience for this film is often forgotten. Older teens have their high school antics flicks, young children have the talking animal genre but the pre-teen is frequently forgotten by film makers. Fortunately, director Gabor Csupo has provided us with a film that has this neglected demographic as the protagonists and is very enjoyable by the adults. There is no reliance on gross out, bodily function humor here, that is to say you wonít find the typical fart jokes. Instead you get a sensitive and endearing film that entertains while giving a little life lesson or two. I just wish this movie was around when my daughter was that age. It would have provided a nice relief from the constant Ninja Turtle flicks we watched together. This film deals with real issues that affect the lives of all pre-teens. Topics such as bullies, crushes, family interaction and financial distress are handled with sensitivity and care. Here is a film that depends on emotions instead of mind numbing special effects. While the trailers and other advertising focused almost completely on the few scenes in the fantasy world this movie is well founded in reality. There is an intense scene in the third act that may up set some younger viewers but it also affords an opportunity for parents to have a frank discussion with their children. This is Csupoís first effort with a feature length film and I look forward to his future work. He paces the film in such a way that holds the attention of the kids. He moves the plot along organically, building to the conclusion with talent and an eye for details.
The young cast here is simply wonderful. These are young actors to watch as they mature and grow in their craft. Josh Hutcherson nails the part of Jesse. He transforms his character from a painfully shy boy to one that lights up in the company of his new friend. His scenes opposite his on screen family are realistic and very well done. AnnaSophia Robb has a screen presence that lights up the screen. With her infectious smile and carefree manner she will pull you into this film no matter what your age. Together they have chemistry on film that shines. There is an innocence that is fantastic and refreshing to watch. One little scene stealer is Bailee Madison. She has a command of the screen that goes far beyond her young age.
This film demonstrates what Buena Vista/Disney does best, quality family entertainment. The DVD transfer is excellent. There is a pan & scan version of the film but trust me, you will want to see every part of every frame. Just consider it a chance to teach your kids about the wonders of widescreen movies. The color balance is great. The reality scenes are muted on purpose to contrast with the bright world of Terabithia. The Dolby 5.1 audio gives a fully, broad sound stage. There are some very well considered extras for a little more enjoyment. There are two commentary tracks provided. The first is oriented more for the parents with director Gabor Csupo, writer Jeff Stockwell and producer Hal Lieberman. The second one will be of more interest for the kids with actors Josh Hutcherson and AnnaSophia Robb along with producer Lauren Levine. There are also two featurettes. One looks at the digital special effects required to bring the fantasy world to life while the other considers the task of bringing a book to screen. One of the best extras is the music video "Keep Your Mind Wide Open" by AnnaSophia Robb. This is a film you can let your children watch alone but one that you will want to enjoy together.