Bridge to Terabithia

By Gus Bode

“Bridge to Terabithia”

Directed by Gabor Csupo

Starring: Josh Hutcherson, AnnaSophia Robb, Robert Patrick, Zooey Deschanel Run time 95 minutes Rated PG Rating 2 1/2 gus heads

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Just when it seemed as though Disney was utterly incapable of producing anything even remotely entertaining without the help of Pixar, the Mouse House crafts a well written, if predictable, children’s fantasy with more imagination than the studio has shown in years.

Based on Katherine Paterson’s Newbery Medal-winning young adult novel and adapted by kiddie-film director Gabor Csupo,“Bridge to Terabithia” is equal parts tear-jerking melodrama and fun flight of fancy. Although somewhat predictable, with special effects largely taking a back seat to drama- despite a marketing campaign that makes the film seem more like “The Chronicles of Narnia”- “Terabithia” is sure to please middle schoolers or fans of Paterson’s maudlin but moving novel.

Like other fantasy films of its ilk, “Bridge to Terabithia” relies on the cinematic staple of youngsters so alienated and troubled by real life that they craft an imaginary land in which to escape. Jess (Josh Hutcherson) is a budding artist who is bullied at school by older students and unappreciated at home by his sisters and workaholic father. Jess’ world is changed when new girl Leslie (AnnaSophia Robb) beats him in a foot race on the first day of school. Despite the embarrassing defeat, Jess befriends the eccentric city girl, and the pair begins exploring the nearby woods.

With a tire swing acting as a magical entrance and a dilapidated tree house substituting for a castle, Jess and Leslie find respite from the outside world as the pair recedes into the woodland fantasy land Leslie dubs Terabithia. Inside Terabithia, Jess and Leslie channel their real-life troubles into trolls, hairy hawks and mutant squirrels.

Although the film’s trailer makes “Terabithia” seem like an overblown fantasy epic, Csupo and screenwriter Jeff Stockwell smartly follow close to Paterson’s narrative and ground the story in the real world rather than an imaginary one. While Weta Digital (the folks responsible for “The Lord of the Ring”) does a serviceable job of providing the film’s CGI flourishes, the real heart of “Terabithia” is the friendship between Jess and Leslie.

The rest of the film’s performances are also serviceable, however. Robert Patrick is wholly believable as Jess’ grizzled father and Zooey Deschanel is adorable as the school music teacher.

Unfortunately, the moments of gravity in the film’s story and the adroit acting is too often marred by inept pop music cues, shaky editing and the predictability that accompanies all “coming of age” tales. While “Bridge to Terabithia” is sure to be a hit with tweens, the film never succeeds in the same way as the novel.

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Even if Disney is no longer a home for surefire childhood hits, “Bridge to Terabithia” goes a long way in resurrecting the studio’s reputation for family friendly cinema despite the failures of the past decade.

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