Barry's Review: Bridge to Terabithia
by Barry Wurst
February 16, 2007
The trailers for Bridge to Terabithia have seriously overplayed the fantasy elements of this family film, another adaptation of a beloved book (by Katherine Paterson), made by Walden Media and distributed by Disney. Truth be told, the film is similar (and superior) to Jon Avnet's The War from 1994, and nothing like the previous Chronicles of Narnia film. In fact, as far as quality family films from Walden Media go, this one is up there with the lovely and under-appreciated Because of Winn-Dixie.
A story like this lives and dies by the element of surprise that unfolds with each scene, so I'll be scarce in plot description. A boy named Jesse (Josh Hutcherson) from a poor, working class home befriends the quirky, imaginative girl next door Leslie (AnnaSophia Robb) and they create a fantasy world that provides escape from the harsh realities they face at home and at school.
The boy's father is played by Robert Patrick, who gives a fine performance, and also features Zooey Deschanel, who is effective playing an inspiring music teacher (though her character is a little too good to be true). Yet the film belongs to its young cast and the two leads are splendid. Hutcherson makes his pre-teen angst real and felt and Robb, who steals the film, is terrific. The other child performances are, unfortunately, amateurish - a factor that won't bother children as much as their parents.
The film is directed by first-timer Gabor Csupo, a "Simpsons" animator, who does a superb job, particularly considering the tricky nature of the story. The building of the "real" and fantasy plotlines are well established and a stunner of plot twist late in the film has the powerful emotional impact intended. Even though the visual effects are impressive, there's a lot less of them than the trailer would have you believe. This isn't an eye candy, CGI-driven kiddie flick. In fact, the film is downright somber at times. The final scene, while nice, felt overdone and I'm not sure the fantasy subplot was entirely necessary to the rest of the story, though it comes across well enough and the sequences in general are enchanting, if brief.
Most surprising, Bridge to Terabithia is never sappy and is more emotionally rich (and quite sad) than most films aimed at young audiences. Overall, this family film is a real sleeper hit, the first nice surprise of the year in theaters. It's rare to find a film in this day and age that is this rough-edged, heartfelt and moving.