Writers: Katherine Paterson, David L. Paterson & Jeff Stockwell (based on the novel by Katherine Paterson)
Cast: Josh Hutcherson (Jess Aarons), AnnaSophia Robb (Leslie Burke), Lauren Clinton (Janice Avery), Zooey Deschanel (Julia Edmunds), Jen Wolfe (Mrs Myers), Robert Patrick (Jack Aarons), Kate Butler (Mary Aarons), Devon Wood (Brenda Aarons), Emma Fenton (Ellie Aarons), Bailee Madison (Maybelle Aarons), Grace Brannigan (Joyce Ann Aarons), Cameron Wakefield (Scott Hoager), Latham Gaines (Bill Burke) & Judy McIntosh (Judy Burke)
Based on a beloved novel I wasn't even aware of, Bridge To Terabithia is an interesting little movie that reminded me of those morally-sound family films that get played mid-afternoon. But where those movies are usually saccharine and full of do-gooders, Terabithia is commendably more robust and textured.
Jess (Josh Hutcherson) is an ordinary boy with a flair for drawing, who spends most of his school days fending off bullies in class and putting up with abuse on the bus ride home. His life changes when next-door neighbour Leslie (AnnaSophia Robb) arrives at his school and touches him with her creative writing and kooky nature.
Leslie's dreamy demeanour also makes her a target for bullies, but she finds refuge with Jess after school, when the pair venture over a creek into a forest, and begin imagining their own private kingdom (Terabithia), where they can escape harsh reality...
Unfortunately, to say any more would ruin the film's main surprise -- but by skirting over it, Bridge To Terabithia thus becomes very difficult to review, as the real punch comes from this bombshell. Suffice to say, it's a memorable jab in the heart that's sure to elicit a few tears and ensure the film lingers in the memory for awhile...
Directed by Hungarian-born animator Gábor Csupó (famous for creating dozens of Nickelodeon cartoons, like Rugrats), Bridge To Terabithia has an unusual vibe to it. Despite what the marketing team would have you believe, the film isn't a "fantasy film" in the Narnia tradition -- as its sequences with fantastical creatures are restricted to fleeting glimpses and rest solely in the overactive imaginations of the child leads.
It's actually a character-based drama that touches on childhood issues (particularly bullying), and undoubtedly became a successful classroom book because of how it deals with these weighty themes.
The film does have a vague smell of cosy, forgettable whimsy at times, but it avoids easy labeling because of its gutsy blow to the audience: a real upset-the-apple-cart moment that elevates Bridge To Terabithia a few notches.
The child actors are all very good, particularly Josh Hutcherson as introverted Jess and the sublime AnnaSophia Robb as his spirited (girl)friend Leslie. Individually, both young actors give enjoyable and realistic performances, and together they have an obvious chemistry.
All the supporting child cast are fine, if not spectacular -- mainly because their roles are quite minor and one-note. But there are some decent adult turns, particularly from Robert Patrick as Jess's grouchy father, and Zooey Deschanel as sweet-natured music teacher Miss Edmunds.
Overall, Bridge To Terabithia could disappoint if you're expecting a fantasy adventure, as it's a more reality-based drama with some imaginative flourishes, but otherwise this is commendable children's entertainment. I can see it becoming a minor favourite amongst kids who find it, and it's refreshing to see a film with its finger on the emotional heartbeat of childhood reality.
Walt Disney Pictures/Walden Media