BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA
© 2007 by C.E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.
L to R: AnnaSophia Robb as Leslie Burke and
Josh Hutcherson as Jesse Aarons in
BRIDGE TO TEREBITHIA
Photo Credit: Kristy Griffin
©2007 Buena Vista Pictures Marketing and Walden Media, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Katherine Paterson's award-winning children's
book
BRIDGE TO TEREBITHIA was previously
adapted for television under the PBS'
Wonderworks banner and the result was less
than spectacular. So it was understandable
that the material might be adapted for the big
screen as a corrective to that less than
spectacular version. Disney and Walden Media
had a big success with the similarly-themed
CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: THE LION, THE
WITCH AND THE WARDROBE
, and decided to
pool their resources on this adaptation.
Obviously, the companies were hoping that
lightening could strike twice.

BRIDGE TO TEREBITHIA was entrusted to an
animator making his fictional feature film
debut. Gabor Csupo has mostly worked in
television on such seminal series as
The
Simpsons
and Rugrats. On paper he might
have seemed an inspired choice, but the final
result unfortunately doesn't quite add up to a
great movie. This film falls somewhere
between the exhilarating
PAN'S LABYRINTH
and the dreadful
TIDELAND in that it deals
with the power of imagination -- particularly
from a female perspective.

The screenplay by David Paterson (the author's
son for whom the book was written) and Jeff
Stockwell manages to avoid some of the
saccharine aspects that children's films tend to
highlight. There's a timeless sense to the
material which works in its favor (the action
could be unfolding in the 1970s of the book's
publication or the 2000s of the films release).

Poor kid Jess Aarons (Josh Hutcherson)
struggles as the only boy in a family of girls.
He's also a sensitive artist and is close with
his younger sister May Belle (the adorable
moppet Bailey Madison) although he and his
dad (Robert Patrick) are struggling to find
common ground. At school, Jess is somewhat
of an outsider and his chance to fit in is to win
a footrace. So when he loses the race to the
new student, it's a blow. Part of the problem is
that the newcomer is a girl named Leslie Burke
(AnnaSophia Robb), the daughter of well-to-do
writers who seems to have inherited their flair
for fiction. It doesn't take long for Jess and
Leslie to become pals and her amazing
imagination turns a deserted area into a
magical kingdom called Terabithia.

Perhaps the marketing people are at fault here
since the movie's advertisements and trailers
highlight this mythical land where Jess is King
and Leslie is Queen. The special effects are
startling and eye-popping but the actual time
spent in this land is the least interesting thing
about the movie.

BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA actually works best
when it concentrates on the growing friendship
between the two amiable leads. The adults are
almost peripheral, except for Zooey
Deschanel's music teacher on whom Jess
develops a crush. There's a surprise plot twist
in the third act which readers of the book will
be aware, but those unfamiliar with the source
material won't be. They may find it a bit
jarring, but it sets up the final sequences and
drives home the themes and lessons of the
book.

I was alternately charmed and disappointed
with the film. Csupo may be comfortable
working in animation but he has a long way to
go with live actors. There are repetitive shots
and sequences (one involving a school bus
comes immediately to mind) and some less
than elegant scene transformations --
particularly as Leslie begins to evoke the
strange land of Terabithia. The movie is
certainly light years ahead of the mediocre
television adaptation but it is not quite the
definitive version of the story, despite the
strong screenplay and fine lead actors.


Rating:                C
MPAA Rating:    PG for thematic
                       elements including
                       bullying, some peril
                       and mild language
Running time:    95 mins.