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Bridge to Terabithia (2007) Movie Review

Bridge to Terabithia (2007) movie poster - click to buy Bridge to Terabithia

Theatrical Release: February 16, 2007 / Running Time: 95 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Gabor Csupo

Cast: Josh Hutcherson (Jess Aarons), AnnaSophia Robb (Leslie Burke), Zooey Deschanel (Ms. Edmonds), Robert Patrick (Jack Aarons), Bailey Madison (May Belle Aarons), Kate Butler (Nancy Aarons), Devon Wood (Brenda Aarons), Emma Fenton (Ellie Aarons), Grace Brannigan (Joyce Aarons), Latham Gaines (Bill Burke), Judy McIntosh (Judy Burke)

Bridge to Terabithia will come to DVD on June 19th. Click here to preorder.

The near-immeasurable success of films adapted from books in the Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings series has made child-friendly fantasy literature as hot in Hollywood this decade as it's ever been. After stepping up to the plate by turning the first of C.S. Lewis's best-selling Chronicles of Narnia novels into a blockbuster film,
Walt Disney Pictures and Walden Media would appear to be back in familiar territory with Bridge to Terabithia, based on Katherine Paterson's Newbery Medal-winning 1977 tale. But, in contrast to the fantasy-heavy marketing campaign, Terabithia is much more grounded in reality than debut Narnia film The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe was. Which can only mean that despite the nearby release dates and common filming location (Auckland, New Zealand), the two PG-rated projects are related only as much as most Walden productions are.

In other words, Walden is just doing what it's become known for the past few years: adapting a beloved book in a fairly faithful manner. Based on the company's mixed track record, it's not too clear whether the general public care will care about Terabithia (the way they did for Wardrobe, Holes, and the recent Charlotte's Web) or not (Hoot, How to Eat Fried Worms, Around the World in 80 Days). But it is apparent that those who do add to its earnings should find much to enjoy.

The two fastest kids in school -- Jess (Josh Hutcherson) and Leslie (AnnaSophia Robb) -- share a friendly run in "Bridge to Terabithia." Jess and Leslie are the best of friends.

Set in the present day in an unspecified American small town, Bridge to Terabithia centers on Jess Aarons (Zathura's Josh Hutcherson), a fifth grade boy who is picked on at school and left out at home amidst four sisters. With the start of another school year, Jess finds himself with a new classmate, a new neighbor, and a new challenger to his title of "fastest kid in school." All of the above positions refer to Leslie Burke (AnnaSophia Robb of Charlie & The Chocolate Factory and Walden's Because of Winn-Dixie), a short-haired blonde girl who falls into the same "outsider" status that Jess has held for years.

Over similar passions and a shared bus stop, Jess and Leslie become friends. Their relationship is a touching one: they're too young for romance, too old for fickle playdate rotations, and too lonely not to need one another. Over the course of many afternoons in the woods, Leslie and Jess use their vivid imaginations -- regularly enlisted for Leslie's school essays and Jess's private notebook of drawings -- to create Terabithia, a fantastic land inhabited by fierce rodents and imposing giants, among others.

There's some magic to be found in "Bridge to Terabithia", just not as much as the commercials would make you think. Giants, palaces, and an impressive landscape: this is Terabithia.

Clearly, Terabithia offers the two kindred youngsters an escape from common adolescent concerns like school bullies and imperfect family life. The sequences set in this magical land, over which Jess and Leslie are the self-declared rulers, are being abundantly employed for the healthy supply of TV commercials. While they're admittedly fun, they're also the type of thing that plays better in print than on-screen. How much suspense can arise in a place that exists only in the protagonists' minds? Fortunately, time is sparingly spent in the imagined universe, which is compelling in its small doses. The titular kingdom serves its purpose sufficiently by merely contrasting with the realistically flawed real-life youths experienced by Jess and Leslie.

As it becomes unclear how a gentle and insightful tale like this can come to a conventional resolution, tragedy strikes. It is pretty much the worst kind imaginable and the movie plays it for all its great dramatic worth in its final act. Inevitably, the viewer's affected emotions grant weight to the preceding proceedings, but it's a rather dreary turn of events, nonetheless, and unfortunately deals a major blow to what was earlier a celebration of childhood wonder in the face of life's realities. It is no surprise which of the two forces emerges victoriously in the end, but the bittersweet conclusion likely won't be fully appreciated by children scarred by the terrible and almost entirely unforeseen loss.

Robert Patrick (of "Terminator 2") plays Jess's stern father Jack Aarons. Zooey Deschanel plays an inspiring music teacher with a penchant for '70s songs.

Making his directorial debut, animation veteran Gabor Csupo ("Rugrats", "The Simpsons", "The Wild Thornberrys") proves himself to be plenty competent helming a live-action film. It helps that he's working from a strong script by Jeff Stockwell (The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys) and David Paterson (the author's son, who many years ago inspired the novel). The cast does a good job of bringing the material to life in a believable fashion, particularly the leads;
though reserved, Hutcherson is likable and Robb excels in the flashier role. Also noteworthy are Robert Patrick as Jess's ever-serious father and Bailee Madison as the boy's cute, semi-excluded younger sister. In a role which seems unquestionably expanded from the source text, Zooey Deschanel plays a music teacher who leads the class in singing '70s anthems like The Five Stairsteps' "Ooh Child" and War's "Why Can't We Be Friends?" on an unrealistically frequent basis.

Though it took thirty years for a big screen adaptation to be made, anyone who is fond of Katherine Paterson's affecting story should be pleased with the treatment given to it by Disney and Walden. It may disappoint those expecting the grand Narnia-esque fairy tale that ads have been previewing, but like many other esteemed pieces of children's fiction, Terabithia touches on issues that are part of growing up and themes close to young ones' hearts. It does so in an even and wise fashion, rewarding those who demand more than spectacle. Sure, that means it will earn a mere fraction of Narnia/Potter/Rings's towering totals, but then not every movie is meant to bust blocks.

Bridge to Terabithia will come to DVD on June 19th. Click here to preorder.

Related Items:
Buy "Bridge to Terabithia" (the novel) from Amazon.com Buy "Bridge to Terabithia: Soundtrack" from Amazon.com Buy "Bridge to Terabithia: The Official Movie Companion" from Amazon.com Buy "Bridge to Terabithia" (1985 filming) on DVD from Amazon.com Buy "Bridge to Terabithia" movie tie-in Audio Book from Amazon.com
The Book:
Bridge to Terabithia
Movie Tie-In Edition
176 pgs, Harper
Also available:
1987 printing
Bridge to Terabithia: Soundtrack
Score by Aaron Zigman,
Songs by Miley Cyrus, Hayden Panettiere, AnnaSophia Robb, Everlife, and more
Movie Poster
Double-sided, one-sheet,
27" x 40"
Bridge to Terabithia: The Official Movie Companion
48 pages, paperback
Harper Entertainment
January 2007
1985 Filming:
Bridge to Terabithia
DVD, Bonneville
Movie Tie-In AudioBook
CD, unabridged
Harper, 1/1/07

Related Reviews:
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - Four-Disc Extended Edition
Holes Around the World in 80 Days Tuck Everlasting The Straight Story
A Wrinkle in Time Eight Below Flight of the Navigator The Princess Diaries
Something Wicked This Way Comes The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Ladder 49

Reviewed February 15, 2007.