Bridge to Terabithia Review
Bridge to Terabithia isn’t a well known children’s book this side of the pond, but in the US its up there with Narnia and Neverland as a fantastic fable about the power of the imagination, story-telling, and growing up.
Jesse (Hutcherson) is a slightly beleaguered pre-teen; living on his parents’ barely scraping by farm, sensitive middle child Jesse struggles with his desire to be and artist and his father’s expectations. He spends the whole summer training to be the fastest runner in school, as this is his only other talent, though his big moment is almost ruined when his mother forces him to take his older sister’s pink Adidas trainers, Jesse thinks he’ll get away with it until he is pipped to the post by newcomer, tomboy Leslie Burke (Robb). Jesse is pretty annoyed, but Leslie pushes and pushes until, despite their differences (she’s a GIRL, also rich, urbane, relatively sophisticated), they become fast friends.
Leslie, being the product of bohemian artistic parents, has never been discouraged from using her brain and her imagination, and as she and Jesse explore the woods near their homes, she invents a magical world, Terabithia, which can only be reached by swinging on an old rope across a stream. In Terabithia, Jesse and Leslie are the king and queen; with the help of the Terabithians, they fight the evil Dark Master and his minions and plot against the various foes they face in the ‘real’ world. But when tragedy strikes, will the lessons of Terabithia be enough?
Bridge to Terabithia sounds like it could be awful, clichéd, and worthy. Thankfully, it’s not. The title is potentially confusing for Narnia fans (Terabinthia was one of the islands in Voyage Of The Dawn Treader) but once you get past this, its actually a lovely and moving family film boasting sterling performances from its young leads. Jesse seems a bit of a wimp in the beginning (being called Jess by all and sundry might not help…) but as the film plays out the causes of his insecurity – his lack of a meaningful relationship with his dad (Patrick), his fear of being thought girlie because he can draw and doesn’t want to be a farmer – add together to make a composite picture of a real child. When he goes on an impromptu field trip with music teacher Ms Edmonds (Deschanel), his blossoming in the art gallery is visible, in the same way that his mind can be open in Terabithia because he isn’t afraid.
Despite the excellent effects from WETA, the film is much less about Terabithia – and kudos to the filmmakers for not rooting the story in fantasy – than it is about reality. Even when the kids are in their kingdom, they spend an awful lot of time hanging out, telling stories, and making things. This, in a world where parents smother their children with an uneasy mix of affection and fear, is incredibly refreshing – seeing Jesse doing woodwork, using a chisel, an ax and a saw without supervision; Leslie hammering in nails and painting. Childhood used to be like this for everyone, not just kids in the country. It is risky. Sometimes bad things happen. That’s life too – and the film doesn’t shy away from dealing with the bad things either. Charming, touching and refreshing, this is a film the whole family will enjoy.
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