A Pleasant Surprise.
Movies - wrote on 06/06/08
"…I check my air. I don’t have as much time as I need to see everything, but that is what makes it so special.”
I’m not quite sure words can describe how I felt after viewing “Bridge to Terabithia” for the first time. For starters, I had already read the book back in fourth grade, and many of the scenes in that novel remain engraved in my mind to this day. The marketing for this adaption was poor and misleading at best. It appeared as if the people at Disney prepped this to be the next coming of “Narnia,” showcasing the various fantasy sequences throughout the many promotional trailers. Director Gabor Csupo was probably brought in to direct based on his impressive imaginative skills displayed in his co-created phenomenon “The Rugrats.” This signaled that Disney and crew cared more about the visuals than the coming-of-age story so wonderfully told in Katherine Patterson’s novel. With the latter in mind, I decided to skip a theatrical viewing and catch it on DVD instead. The story is a fictional account of David Patterson’s (Katherine’s son) experience with a young friend during his childhood. Although the director of this adaption had my eyes rolling back, David Patterson took the time and energy to help co-write the screenplay, making sure this beloved literary classic was done justice. “Bridge to Terabithia” exceeded all my expectations despite knowing the chain of events that would eventually unfold.
Josh Hutcherson (”Little Manhatten”) is Jess Aarons. He lives in a lower-middle class family. After practicing for the race at school in the morning, Jess is seen doing chores around the yard. He is forced to wear girls shoes because his family is unable to buy him new ones. The relationship he shares with his father (Robert Patrick) is shaky at best. Although not abusive, Jack Aarons fails to show the same kind of love for Jess as he passionately shows for May Belle (Bailee Madison), Jess’s younger sister. His mother is constantly telling him to do his chores and his older sister’s annoy and tantalize him to no end. If life at home is a nightmare, life at school can be labeled as hell for this pre-teen. Jess is the victim of bullying and being socially alone. Luckily, this all begins to change with the introduction of Leslie Burke, a new kid at school. She is portrayed by the lovely AnnaSophia Robb who steals most of the scenes she’s in. Although Jess is at first skeptical of Leslie, he begins to spend time with her. Together, they run off into the woods and create an imaginary kingdom called “Terabithia.” “Terabithia” is filled with woodland creatures and giant troll’s who are fittingly themed to the bullies at their school. Director Csupo wisely decides to only include 15 minutes of fantasy in the entire production; instead focusing dramatically on the heavy-handed themes in Patterson’s literary classic.
The backbone of the narrative is obviously invested in the relationship between Jess and Leslie. While Jess comes from a poor family, Leslie is sprung from a rich family with no real worries. A terrific scene that depicted this realization revolves around Jess helping the Burke’s paint there living room. In contrast, Jess and his family would never be caught dead dancing and painting while John Mcloughlin’s tunes play in the background. Much of the development occurs in the woods and at school. To put it in simple terms, both provide each other with friendship. Each talk about the trouble they have at school and home (parents). In an interesting conversation, Jess asks, “If they work at home, you must see them a lot.” Leslie replies, “Not really.” Other themes explored in the film include bullying and religion. The religious discussion that takes place may put off some parents. The scene only grows on the theme of individualism, and to take such poignant scene out of context would be borderline criminal. Nevertheless, the friendship between our leads spawns into a coming-of-age relationship that might not reach out to the viewer until the films third act has arrived.
The performances from Hutcherson and Robb are flawless. Both provide some of the best child portrayals in the last decade as far as I’m concerned. Most of “Bridge” is carried by Hutcherson. Robb is equally impressive as Leslie. This character is so free and full of life it would almost be considered a crime not to behold the joys and wonders of this newly found friend. The adult actors are solid. Zooey Deschannel adds a lot of life and spunk as music teacher Ms. Edmunds, while Robert Patrick plays just the right notes as Jess’s father, not overselling or exploiting his character. While the visuals are great, these elements are not over-used and grown tired of. “The Chronicles of Narnia” films are weighed down by useless visuals and repetitive action sequences. “Bridge” intelligently focuses on the characters, and packs an emotional punch that those watered down fantasy flicks wished they had in their cannon.
“Bridge to Terabithia” can be placed at the near top of its genre. It’s one of those films everyone should see at least once in their life. Garnished in reality rather than fantasy, “Bridge” approaches its targeted audience with authenticity and delicacy, unlike other children films who talk down, or overly preach to younger viewership. Much of what makes the film work relies heavily on the emotionally driven third act. Even though I knew the events that would unfold, I still found myself drained and stunned when the ending credits appeared. This is one not to be missed.