by RISHI AGRAWAL
I think it is difficult to not be slaves to our expectations. I hear so many people, when giving opinions about movies, talking about how the film conformed to what they expected to see, rather than trying to form an objective analysis. Unfortunately, I think that the misleading marketing campaign for Bridge to Terabithia, based on the novel by Katherine Paterson, will leave a lot of the audience disappointed. This will lead to poor word of mouth recommendations and, ultimately, fewer people will see this film. This is a shame because, even though the film is not quite what the trailer makes it out to be, it is a very good film about childhood friendship and family.
Jesse (Josh Hutcherson; Zathura, RV) lives in a somewhat isolated world. He is smack dab in the middle in a family of five children and the only boy. His father is a little harsh on him and he finds himself frequently picked on by the bullies at school. His finds his only solace in drawing, something that he is quite good at. His world changes when he meets Leslie (AnnaSophia Robb; Because of Winn-Dixie; Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), his new free-spirited neighbor who has an active imagination. Together, they find a treehouse in a forest beyond a creek. There, they create the magical land of Terabithia, a place that exists in their imaginations. (This is precisely what is misleading about the marketing campaign – the land of Terabithia is not real and not as central to the story as one might think.)
Matt Groening, in his comic strip Life in Hell once correctly described junior high as the “Deepest Pit in Hell.” It is an awkward time for everyone who experiences it, and Jesse and Leslie get the worst of it. It is rare to see a movie that really gets the experience right. Junior high is a daily chore because of the social aspects and raging hormones. Terabithia provides an escape from hell for Jesse and Leslie. It is something they can look forward to as they try to deal with life. I think this movie is a very good film to watch for children about 12-13 years old who have trouble fitting in.
Though the land of Terabithia isn’t pervasive in the movie, it is memorable. First-time director Gabor Csupo made his reputation as an animator and the CGI effects in this movie are smoothly integrated into reality. In a few scenes, where the children are running from the minions of the Dark Master, there are moments of genuine fear. This stems not only from the realism of the special effects, but the fact that we get to know the characters and empathize with them.
About two-thirds through the movie, the movie takes a turn that is jarring and unexpected, which is the reason why this movie might not be appropriate for younger children. This is the same twist that is in the book, for those of you who remember it. It is generally well-handled in the movie, but it does leave you wondering what could have been had the movie not taken that turn. There is also a religious message in the movie, while not as overbearing as in The Chronicles of Narnia, seems a bit awkward and forced. This is a movie that may have difficulty finding an audience due to its dismal marketing. For those of you who are looking for magical lands with kings and queens, this is not the movie for you. However, if you want a good story about children who are trying to cope with everyday life, there are few films that explore this theme better.
3 1/2 stars