Bridge to Terabithia
by Katherine Paterson
(Used & new Paperback from Amazon)
"Bridge to Terabithia"
This story of magical realism applied to teenage life mixes escape to fantasy with the darker issues of discipline and disappointment. Its CGI enhancements and attractive cast comes to us quite appropriately from Walt Disney Pictures and Walden Media. What may be surprising in the live-action adventure is the content of bad people and bad creatures and the mortality of good ones that takes you well beyond the realm of Mickey Mouse.
Adapted from Katherine Paterson's young-adult novel, the story focuses on the bonding between a boy and a girl whose immediate attraction leads to perfect compatibility in terms of imagination and make-believe. The visualization of that element is well-handled by a studio born to the task.
Jesse (Josh Hutcherson, "Zathura") is a well-disciplined young man who does his chores, ignores the bullies at school, draws well and is adored by his little sister May Belle (Bailee Madison). His father (Robert Patrick) is strict but a lot of it has to do with his struggles to maintain a seven- member family on a hardware store worker's salary. Mom (Kate Butler) can be demanding, too, in a nurturing way.
Much of a young boy's life is the time spent in school, and this is a social climate decidedly uncomfortable for someone as comparatively poor as Jesse, financially. The personal strongpoints that help him endure that limitation are his superiority at foot racing and his craftsmanship in drawing. Any negativity about school, however, changes when he's beaten in a race by new girl Leslie (irrepressible AnnaSophia Robb, "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory") about whom nothing is known and less is expected.
As far as Jesse is concerned, she isn't to be a stranger for long. She singles him out as the boy she wants to know from observation of his general modesty. Her house, a virtual mansion just down the road from Jesse's relative shanty, tells part of the story in a somewhat misleading way. From the time she convinces him she's not an alien and means him no harm, her extensive energies and outlook are focused on exploring mutual interests. No thought or innuendo about comparative circumstances enters the discussion. Rather, it's a symbiotic love attachment in which her alpha properties prove commanding and irresistible, with Jesse pretty much following her lead.
Somehow, she knows more about the area with its forests and uncultivated acreage than Jesse does, and she leads him to a creek with a rope hanging over it, the intended means of getting from one side to the other. When they both manage to do so, they find a tree house, the power to envision the fairy tale land of Terabithia, along with all the creatures that come with it, some of whom are hairy and frightening, swift and dangerous, benign and helpful.
Bringing educational joy into their lives is music teacher Ms. Edmonds (Zooey Deschanel, "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy") who uses progressive means to promote her subject and encourage creativity. She's aware of Jesse's academic accomplishments as well as his creative tendencies. She makes use of it to push a superior student toward self discovery.
Director Gabor Csupo and his screenwriters Jeff Stockwell and David Paterson make the most of difficulties and conflicts in the extraordinary lives of two teenagers to provide drama while edging close to the darker extremes of those valuable Disney creds. Here, they have allowed pathos and fantasy to mix and seek deeper levels, widening potential audience demographics.
Robb, that girl from "The Reaping," spreads her energy around like it comes from a deep well at Exxon. Everything is affected by it, from her co-star to the film itself -- showcasing a talent (including singing on the music video) that may challenge a director to contain it. The totality of her optimism radiates, and the stimulus shows up in the rising level of Hutcherson's command of his material in the last act.
~~ Jules Brenner
~ Behind the Book: The Themes of Bridge To Terabithia
~ Music Video "Keep Your Mind Wide Open," performed by AnnaSophia Robb
~ Audio Commentary with the director and writers
~ Audio commentary with the two lead actors and producer Lauen Levine