Most kids growing up imagine a world they can escape to, a magical place where they are in control of the things that happen. Director Gabor Csupo's Bridge to Terabithia, co-written by David Paterson (the son of the writer whose novel provides the film's source material), is the story of two kids and the bond they create while imagining a magical place to call their own.
Jesse (Josh Huterson) is a quiet and thoughtful outsider in a school that seems full of bullies. Leslie (AnnaSophia Robb) is a confident and rather odd newcomer to the small-town school. While at first it might not seem that these two could be friends, they soon discover what they have in common and become inseparable. Leslie opens Jesse’s eyes to a world that he couldn’t see clearly, and she helps him to open his mind to his surroundings. Together the two create Terabithia and fight the wicked servants of the Dark Master, who is a clawed, shadowy figure.
The emphasis of the movie is on the friendship being built by these two unpopular children. While both come from different backgrounds, and their home lives are completely different, there is one common theme — loneliness. Jesse always seems to be the odd one out at home. His sisters receive most of the attention, especially the second youngest, May Belle (Bailee Madison), and Leslie seems to have all this free time while her parents, who are novelists, write.
The story that unfolds is simple but well-done. Having never read the book, I cannot make comparisons, although now I’m sure to add it to my reading list. Jesse and Leslie give each other things the other was looking for — friendship, understanding, hope — all things a person of any age can relate to on some level.
I was braced for the tragic incident that happens halfway through the movie but still I cried. (If you have seen the movie or read the book you know what happens.) Yes, that’s right. I cried and clutched my tissue like the soft-hearted fool I am. The incident was handled very well though, well-acted and thoughtful. It dealt with guilt and sorrow on a level that was easy for a younger audience to understand. I was surprised by the discussion involving religion. It seems in such a politically correct world something like that would be a big hot button. But again, it was handled thoughtfully.
I have to admit that I wish there had been more fantasy. I realize that this is a movie about friendship and the relationships you form with your family with the fantasy element secondary to that. But the glimpse at the end with the bird-cage person and the view across a shimmering landscape just made me wish for more.
The DVD comes with some nice special features. The transformation from novel to movie is discussed in the "Behind the Book" section; there are interviews with the author Katherine Paterson, the actors, as well as school teachers who discuss the themes of the book. But the most interesting part for me was Katherine Paterson and her son David talking about the book The Bridge to Terabithia and its base in reality.
When I first saw previews for Terabithia I thought, ‘I have to see it’ but once it hit movie theaters I just didn’t have the time. Having just now finished it on DVD, I’m not sure if I’m glad I waited for it or not. There are several things about this movie that stand out and some that don’t. But overall, I have to admit that this was pretty good as long as you have a box of tissue with you.