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Bridge to Terabithia

A family film directed by Gabor Csupo and based on the novel by Katherine Paterson.

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Bridge to Tarabithia -- I believe this to be the first truly American fable that isn't stupid

  • Oct 13, 2010

Non-conformity and misfit often go hand-in-hand, and in my case they do and pretty much always have. Many movies I’ve reviewed show this. What is strange to me is how many movies I know little about tend to focus on either misfits or non-conformists or both. I’ve said before that, among other similar things, I don’t believe in kismet, but events like these give me a bit of a pause.

Bridge to Terabithia is a tale for the Twelve and Holding set. Jess (Josh Hutcherson) is the only male of 5 children in a family barely surviving financially. He has a real but not wholly realized imagination and an ability to draw. He is isn’t so much a misfit as just someone so const
antly picked on that his personality has collapsed and exists only within. On the first day of school, a Punky Bruster like character, Leslie (AnnaSophia Robb) is introduced. Leslie by dress and attitude is a true non-conformist. She has an almost overdeveloped imagination. Leslie, by being persistent, pulls Jess’s protected personality out and finally they become fast friends.

Both Leslie and Jess live in a very rural part of the unnamed village where Leslie takes Jess exploring in areas he has never been. Across a creek Leslie’s already wild imagination goes into overdrive and she begins to create a parallel world; this only becomes stronger when the pair find a dilapidated tree-house. Terabithia is born. Jess and Leslie spend nearly every afternoon in Terabithia inventing creatures and situations that both are able to visualize.

Bridge to Terabithia is both fable and coming of age, not totally unlike Pan’s Labyrinth.

I’ve been good lately about not having plot spoilers, but I feel a compulsion to examine this film more closely; therefore Plot spoilers probably abound below.

First I am surprised that this will only be the sixth review of this film. I know Bridge to Terabithia is a film made for the 9-12 year-old age group, but it isn’t silly and the issues that it covers can still appeal to adults.

I mentioned Twelve and Holding and Pans Labyrinth in the summary above. Bridge to Terabithia has elements of both, but isn’t quite as mature as either—this does not mean it is a bad film, just that it is probably not quite as appealing to adults (and, face it, Pan’s isn’t really meant for kids despite the main character).

Jess and Leslie are just on the kid side of the cusp between the time when fable and imagination still function and when it is replaced by the larval adulthood rushing at them. In this, they are both like Ofelia in Pan’s their last chance (though unknown to them) to be able to make-believe and not feel stupid about it. What they imagine is stream of consciousness that Leslie is the one responsible for leading the effort. It takes a while for Jess to get on board, and once he does he tries to participate and meets with only limited success (Leslie doesn’t seem to care for his ideas). I found this odd since they seemed to be co-equals in almost everything else.

The issue with Jess is that is family is at or below the poverty line. Early on he h
as to use hand-me-down shoes from a sister and the shoes have pink stripes and shoestrings. He tries to color them black but water destroys his effort. He is bullied at school and this just gives the bullies more reason to pick on him. He also has to share his room with Maybelle (brilliantly created by Bailey Madison). So he has no privacy in a house full of girls. His father (Robert Patrick) tries his best to make time for his son, but it is a difficult task that often goes a bit astray.

The intangibles are what I call the pragmatism of the poor. Middle class and up have a certain level of pragmatism, but if we want to go out to dinner, buy another set of golf clubs, go on a vacation to just about anywhere, there may be some juggling, but not to the extent of those living hand to mouth. This leads to what is the penultimate unhappy thing about Bridge. Upon apparently losing his fathers keys to a hardware store etc, he gets a yelling-at
that explains how much it will cost to replace the locks if the keys are not found. The father says, full of spite, that Jess should draw money since it would at least be useful. For a brief time, Jess lets this level of pragmatism squash his personality back into the safe hole.

The ultimate sadness is telegraphed. This is truly intended for the experienced young moviegoer; most adults will notice this. In its context, this telegraphing is fine. Anyway, despite knowing that when Leslie waves at Jess at a parting it would truly be their last, when this was confirmed I cried and that pretty much went on for the 20 minutes that followed.

While Leslie’s death is telegraphed, the events before it both distract and make the death so much harder to handle. Jess is invited to go to an art museum with his music teacher, on whom he has a crush. They pass Leslie’s house and Jess opts not to invite her; I think the reason is to have Ms. Edmunds (Zooey Daschanel) to himself. It is only when they return that he learns of Leslie’s death. Not long after this, Jess runs into the woods of the imagined Terabithia with what looks like the intent to destroy it. This is interrupted by his younger sister whom he really loves but shoves away.

Shortly after this his father finds him and holds him as Jess has a meltdown over the guilt he has held since believing
he could have saved Leslie by inviting her to the museum. His father is soothing for the first time in the film but this comes across as genuine even given his earlier roughness. I cried early knowing the guilt to follow, I cried harder after Jess admitted to the guilt. To quote Morrissey: “How can someone so young sing words so sad?”

The movie balances on the razor wire between sap and sincere. What solidifies the sincere is what Jess does as a form of tribute to his fallen friend. He builds the bridge to Terabithia out of wood taken from Leslie’s former home after the parents leave and branches from the forest. The bridge itself is just a safer way across the creek (Leslie died when the rope they had used broke and she drowned). The sincere magic comes after he makes peace with his Maybelle. He brings her to the bridge and crowns her Princess of Terabithia. He explains that an open mind would show this fabulous land. Maybelle imagines a far more complex world with beings of all shapes and types in a way far broader than that even Leslie. On the cusp of not being able to believe in Terabithia, Jess hands the keys to the kingdom to his younger sister who has years yet to play in the kingdom before she, too, grows past the childhood magic that made her more complex Terabithia possible.

You are safe to read minus plot spoilers now

Every performance is strong. Ms. Robb can over-emote at times, but it is fits her character (though this doesn’t entirely excuse it). It isn’t quite an ensemble piece, but everyone in it seems to treat it like that, so it has the sense of being realistic in a way that movies typically carried by children may not be. The only complaint I have is the pop music used in a few places in the film. Mainly they were just out of place. They also didn’t seem to fit the mood or plot at the time they enter the film. I know why they were used, but I would have had less to complain about if the music were different or just removed.

This is the first fable made in the US, maybe this is because the director is Hungarian (Gabor Csupo) that didn’t seem sappy and overdone.

I recommend this film without reservation for children and adults.


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December 30, 2011
This was a fun one for sure, great review.
More Bridge to Terabithia (2007 fil... reviews
review by . July 12, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
         Recently I was chatting with a friend of mine, when I mentioned to him that I really wanted to see The Bridge to Terabithia. At first he kind of balked at the idea, even guffawing a little at the suggestion. I tried to justify my desire to watch the latest family film from our friends at Disney by explaining that I had loved the book when I was younger; along with Where the Red Fern Grows, another coming-of-age tale, it had really been the first …
review by . December 23, 2008
posted in Inspirations
Film poster
Based upon the award-winning book by Katherine Paterson, Bridge to Terabithia is a touching film about the bond between two children, both of them outcasts, who learn the importance of friendship and the power of imagination. The screenplay was written by Jeff Stockwell and co-written by David Paterson, the author's son, so the film remains quite faithful to the spirit of the book. The director, Gabor Csupo, handles the emotionally charged story with skill and sensitivity, which only heightens the …
review by . April 29, 2009
For those of us who fantasized about make-believe lands, this movie is right up our alley! Two misfits (a boy and girl) become friends, bonded by a play area across a stream from the boy's house. They swing across the stream on a rope that the girl says is enchanted. While on the other side they imagine a different world called Tarabithia which seems to come alive.     As the two bond together, they seem to make peace with the rest of the world from the kids that bully them at …
review by . January 02, 2008
posted in Movie Hype
For those of us who fantasized about make-believe lands, this movie is right up our alley! Two misfits (a boy and girl) become friends, bonded by a play area across a stream from the boy's house. They swing across the stream on a rope that the girl says is enchanted. While on the other side they imagine a different world called Tarabithia which seems to come alive.    As the two bond together, they seem to make peace with the rest of the world from the kids that bully them at …
review by . August 21, 2007
When I was a kid, I wanted the world to work that way. I wanted the trees to talk back, war with imaginary villains, and fly with the birds. I really felt it and so did the main characters of the story.    Josh Hutcherson, who is no stranger to acting already, starring in 15 plus films plays quiet and artistic Jesse Aarons who usually finds himself the [...] of jokes by the loud and obnoxious fellow students at his public school. Hutcherson is terrific and such an amazing lead …
review by . July 27, 2007
Just about every children's book gets turned into movie at least once. Examples include Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and many Disney tales. Unfortunately, the award-winners do not do so well at either the box office or from the critics. This list of movie letdowns include The Indian in the Cupboard, The Phantom Tollbooth, Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer, and Watership Down. Luckily this is an adaptation. Based on the classic children's book of the same title, the screenplay of this movie was written …
review by . July 22, 2007
Main character Jesse is a lonely, misunderstood young boy; he is adored by his youngest sister, endured by the older ones, and wants only to be loved and acknowledged by his father...to whom he feels certain he is a disappointment. Jesse escapes from his home enviroment into a fantasy created and enabled by his love of drawing. When Leslie moves in next door...they soon discover that they share a love of all things imaginary. Together, they create the make-believe world of Terabithia...a secret, …
review by . July 04, 2007
I watched "The Bridge to Terabithia" on a whim with my wife and daughter with little foreknowledge of the plot. I'd never read the Newbery Award-winning book by Katherine Paterson, and I'd seen only one trailer for the film, which left me with the impression it would be a Narnia knock-off. It's not.    I'm not dissing "The Chronicles of Narnia," which in its way was a remarkable film. But "Terabithia" didn't deserve the CGI-laden marketing campaign it received; far from a fantasy …
review by . April 22, 2007
'Bridge to Terabithia' is a portal to a better life for children and teens. Not simply a call to exercise one's imagination in an electronic age, 'Bridge...' never goes too far to illustrate kids making best use of their resources, including sifting all the elements of boredom, bullying, and fear that resonate in their lives. Sort of like 'Pan's Labyrinth' for children, country kids Jesse (Josh Hutcherson) and newcomer Leslie (Anna Sophia Robb) both find a land of enchantment that's only a swing …
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Paul Savage ()
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I name and describe everything and classify most things. If 'it' already had a name, the one I just gave it is better.
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Wikipedia page for Bridge to Terabithia

Animation master Gabor Csupo directs his first live-action film in this adaptation of the novel The Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson, whose son David co-wrote the screenplay and serves as a producer. Jess (Josh Hutcherson) is misunderstood. Despite Jess' talents as an artist, the school bullies pick on him, his father (Robert Patrick) belittles his dreams, and his four sisters invade his space in the family's cramped house. Jess' bleak world changes when Leslie (Annasophia Robb) moves into the house next door. Bright, creative and outspoken, Leslie also finds herself an outsider in their school. Soon the two are thick as thieves, spending their after school hours exploring the woods beyond their backyards and on the others side of a creek, which Leslie deems the kingdom of Terabithia. Here, they create their own magical world, complete with a Dark Master and his minions, dragonfly soldiers, giant trolls and a treehouse fortress. In Terabithia, the two friends let their imaginations run wild an...

Based on Katherine Paterson's young-adult novel and filmed in picturesque New Zealand, Bridge to Terabithia has lessons to impart about empathy and self-expression, but the tone is never heavy-handed. Jesse (sleepy-eyed Josh Hutcherson,Zathura), a fifth-grade loner, lives in the country with his parents and four sisters, including pesky May Belle (Bailee Madison), who adores him. His strict father (Robert ...
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