Bridge to Terabithia is a haunting story that stays with the reader of the book by Katherine Paterson or the viewer of this movie for the rest of his life. Centered around two characters, a sixth grader boy and girl who don’t fit in anywhere, the story unfolds gracefully and draws the audience in close. The novel, and the movie, feature themes about family, friendship, dreams, and loss that will resonate for everyone no matter where they grew up or in what situation.
I liked how the film set up the family, how they introduced Jess Aarons (played by Josh Hutcherson) and showed what his world was like before it got changed by Leslie. The Blu-ray edition has crisp clean images that show the rundown farmhouse and rural area where Jess lives. There are several good visual touches throughout the film, like the clutter in the family greenhouse. The high-def presentation is so sharp it looks like you can step into the picture.
In just a few moments of showing Jess running cross country and at the breakfast table with his siblings, the viewer gets the idea that Jess is totally lost within the family. Every scene is marked by his fear, pain, and anger. I could see that Jess was dwindling down, become smaller and smaller, till he was barely taking up any room in the world. You can’t help but feel for a kid like this. Hutcherson portrayed Jess to a T. My wife teaches elementary school and I coach little league baseball. We’ve both seen kids like Jess and it’s heartrending.
Jess has always been a dreamer. His family is blue collar and his father (Robert Patrick) and mother are hardworking parents with five children. The family barely gets by. Even buying a new pair of tennis shoes is beyond their financial means. Jess feels guilty for being a problem to them, and that shows on his face. (Hutcherson proves himself to be an extremely great physical actor.) He’s stuck in a world that doesn’t work and he doesn’t know what to do about it.
All his life, Jess has wanted to be an artist. He works in pencil, color pencil, and crayon because that’s all he has. He has a notebook full of drawings that he’s obviously carried for some time. His father doesn’t understand him and wishes Jess would stop daydreaming and get his head out of the clouds.
These are things that every kid and every parent who’s ever been a kid has been through. Katherine Paterson’s novel was published in 1977, so has now been around for 30 years. These problems between parents and children still exist, and so do the misunderstandings. I like stories that hit on truths that are widespread. That’s why this story rings so true for me.