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Movie Review: Bridge To Terabithia Not For Kids Only

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I’ll never forget reading this book with my sixth grade English class during my brief stint as a public school teacher in the late 1990s. Although I absolutely loved working with these kids, most of them came from families that didn’t value reading, or education in general. But seeing their faces glow with happiness and frown with sadness while reading this book was a very memorable moment during my unmemorable teaching experience. This is why I had high hopes for Bridge To Terabithia, the movie.

The movie does great justice to this book, except for taking the imagination sequences a little too far at times. But what really struck me about the whole experience is that this definitely isn’t just a “kid’s” movie. As an adult, this movie will bring you back in time to your first elementary/junior high school crush, your dealings with insecure kids, your thinking that all adults are evil, and the use of your imagination to escape hard times. Most importantly, this film will bring you back to the first time you had to deal with loss and the way you handled it.

Josh Hutcherson effectively plays the main character, Jesse Aarons, who comes from a struggling family. He represents the type of boy that most girls had a crush on in elementary/junior high school, unless you were raised in Beverly Hills. His facial expressions (which we see in many close-ups) are very effective, especially in the race scenes. Bailey Madison plays his little sister and represents the little sister we either had or always wished we had.

The Oscar nomination potential of this film belongs to AnnaSophia Robb, who plays Leslie Burke, the girl who, along with Jesse Aarons, creates the fantasy land of Terabithia. Through her voice, motions, and expressions, she effectively brings out the same Leslie Burke that we fell in love with in the book. She is exactly like the character we all imagined when reading the book, something that can’t be completely said about the rest of the cast. Her most memorable scene in the film is when she talks to Jesse Aarons about how she found out that Janice Avery, one of the film's villains, lives in an abusive household.  

There are other perceived villains of this film besides Janice Avery. But what the film (and book) do so well is show that these characters aren’t really villains. Janice Avery is only a bully because she’s taking out her child abuse on other kids. Jesse’s father, played by Robert Patrick, is not the typical “redneck” father who doesn’t understand his son, as we see towards the end of the film. Mrs. Meyers (played by Jen Wolfe) is not the typical old teacher who can’t identify with kids. One of the main themes of this movie is that sometimes, people aren’t villains; they are simply humans.

The only part of the story that doesn’t completely hold up is when Jesse’s hot teacher, Ms. Edmons (played by Zooey Deschanel), takes Jesse out, alone, to the museum on a Saturday afternoon for a “sudden” field trip. This immediately brings up thoughts of, well… you know. When Katherine Paterson wrote this book, perhaps this situation wasn’t as fraught with other meanings as it is now. 

Overall, Bridge to Terabithia is a movie experience that can barely be topped in this day and age of poorly manufactured films. It is not only a great experience for both adults and kids, but makes each individual question values of love, forgiveness, religion, fantasy, and death.

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