It's a Hard-Knock Life
If you’ve lived through childhood miseries of your own, the ones depicted in Bridge to Terabithia could bring back painful memories. Two pre-teen youngsters, played heartwarmingly by Josh Hutcherson and AnnaSophia Robb, rely on their friendship and imagination to get through some difficult times in this superb film version of the award-winning book by Katherine Paterson.
Both Jesse (Hutcherson) and Leslie (Robb) lack attention from their families and have trouble making friends at school. Jesse, a runner and an artist, can’t even afford a decent pair of sneakers or a quality paint set. His father (Robert Patrick) works in a hardware store, but it costs more than he makes to raise his family of four daughters and one son. Jesse can’t help noticing how much time his dad and mom spend worrying about money, so he tries to help his father by doing chores around the house, even though he receives very little encouragement from his busy dad.
Leslie, the highly intelligent and creative new girl at school, lives next door to Jesse and likes to make up stories. Her parents are writers who have very little time for her when they’re working on a book. And, horror of all horrors, they own no television set. Why? Because Leslie’s dad says, “T.V. kills your brain cells.” When Leslie mentions this in front of the class, everyone laughs at her, so she -- like Jesse -- becomes a target for bullies and for relentless teasing. However, she’s able to give as much as she gets, much to Jesse’s surprise. But, because of her sensitivity, Leslie’s also able to turn one bully into an important ally.
It’s not long before Jesse and Leslie develop a strong friendship. They even create an imaginary world, Terabithia, where they escape the everyday problems of their real world. Before seeing this movie, I thought it would include more fantasy sequences, but I’m glad these -- as incredible as they turned out to be -- were kept to a minimum. The relationship between Jesse and Leslie is what deserves emphasis here. Consequently, Bridge to Terabithia turns out to be a serious coming-of-age drama instead of a special effects spectacle.
Hutcherson (Zathura) excels in showing the emotional changes Jesse must go through to become a more caring human being, especially with his little sister, played by the darling Bailee Madison, and Robb (Because of Winn-Dixie) is perfect as the daring and imaginative Leslie. Although Zooey Deschanel (Elf ) delighted me as a vibrant music teacher in her few school scenes, her character struck the only wrong note here by taking Jesse on a field trip without written permission. Maybe I’m being too nitpicky, but I don’t like it when something like that takes me away from the story being told on screen, particularly one as involving as Bridge to Terabithia.
Now for the hard part. I feel compelled to warn parents about the sad ending of this family-oriented movie. Some children may be disturbed by it. However, because there’s so much in the film to evoke valuable family discussions, I hesitate not to recommend it for everyone. Just remember, moms and dads, Bridge to Terabithia is no Wizard of Oz. It’s more like Pan’s Labyrinth lite.
(Released by Walt Disney Pictures and rated “PG” for thematic elements including bullying, some peril and mild language.)