Shunned at home and at school, loner Jess Aarons (Josh Hutcherson) sets himself the goal of becoming the fastest runner in his middle school. On the day of the big race, though, Jess and the rest of the boys are shown up when newcomer Leslie Burke (AnnaSophia Robb) joins the “boys only” race and leaves them all in the dust. The loner and the newcomer strike up a friendship and, between Leslie’s vivid imagination and gift for storytelling and Jess’s artistic skills, they create a secret kingdom when they cross the “Bridge to Terabithia.”
Animation maestro Gabor Csupo teams with scribes David L. Paterson and Jeff Stockwell to adapt children’s author Katherine Paterson’s tale about friendship, trust and imagination. The result, the first live action work by Csupo, is an intelligent young person’s story that will have strong appeal to older kids – and adults, too, I think – as it eschews poke-you-in-the-eye FX in favor of subtle CGI. It’s the story of two friends and the bond that develops in their mutual imaginings of the kingdom of Terabithia and all of its wondrous creatures. From giant trolls to tiny warrior faeries, the two kids invent a world where they must battle the Dark Master and his evil minion to save their fantasy world.
This is a richly drawn story that is not just about imagination. It deals with real things that kids must face, like schoolyard bullies and being an outsider. Katherine Paterson’s story pulls no punches when a chance to go on an adventure, without Leslie, ends in disaster for Jess, I’ll say no more than that because I don’t want to blow it for those of us not familiar with the tale.
The two young leads, Hutcherson and Robb, are perfectly cast as Jess and Leslie, giving their characters real personalities to go along with their vivid imaginations. Robb, in particular, has a great deal of screen presence, reminding me of a young Winona Ryder. The supporting cast is sparse with only Robert Patrick, as Jess’s father, and Zooey Deschanel, as school music teacher, Miss Edmonds, giving much by way of background characters. But, “Bridge to Terabithia” is about the value of imagination and that is where Csupo and company put it up.
Special F/X are there to be seen but they are organic to the story and don’t call attention to them. They are part of the imaginings of two kids with sound and music used to evoke impressions instead of hit-you-over-the-head CGI. The team of filmmakers maintains a sound and steady balance of live action and effects.
Bridge to Terabithia” is a gem of a movie that is coming out at a time when we are usually saddled with Hollywood’s dregs. It has something for kids of all ages, though the very young might kind it too scary, and deserves to be seen on the big screen. But, it is such an enduring and endearing story, it should have some good legs in the ancillary markets, too. This is a smartly done and intelligent film. I give it a B+.Laura:
Laura did not see this film.
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