Hey, everyone. ”Moriarty” here. Ooooops. For some reason, I had it in my head that BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA opened next weekend. So I screwed up and not only forgot to post my own review, but I shelved MiraJeff’s, thinking I’d post it next week as well. I feel doubly bad considering this is a film that could use the support, since so many of our readers seem to have written it off as a “NARNIA rip-off”. It’s anything but, and I’ll let MiraJeff tell you a bit about it while I run finish my own piece to post later today.
Greetings AICN, MiraJeff here to walk across the Bridge to Terabithia. I recall Moriarty mentioning his review was under embargo but since the film came out today and it still hasn’t been posted, I’m taking it upon myself to relay the good news, which is, that this film really surprised me. As a kid, I'd never read the book or even heard of it, so I really had no idea what I was in for, but I'll be damned if this kiddie flick didn't move me to tears. For the rest of the uninitiated like myself, Bridge to Terabithia was a Newbery Award-winning book in the 70's about a couple of kids who invent a fantasy land of make-believe called Terabithia, brimming with giants and other whimsical creatures. The trailers are doing their best to make this thing look like Narnia: The Sequel, but the truth is, it isn't. In fact, the CGI-enhanced fantasy sequences are probably the worst thing about it but kids will turn a blind eye to that sad, head-scratching fact and have fun taking the ride anyways. The real reason Terabithia works is the chemistry of its young leads, Josh Hutcherson and AnnaSophia Robb, who handle some difficult material with maturity well beyond their years. Hutcherson stars as Jesse, a good-looking, personable kid with a knack for art who for some reason gets picked on at school. He's not the typical dork you see in these movies, or weak in any sense, but a school bully named Janice (Lauren Clinton) really has it out for him, as do two other "tough" kids, Mr. Obnoxious Long Hair and a sturdy redhead who looks like he might be saying "O'Doyle Rules" if this were an Adam Sandler film. Jesse lives in a house dominated by women and his old man (Robert Patrick) is a hard-ass in the way only Robert Patrick can be. Things could be going better for him but they only seem to be getting worse. That is, until the delightful Leslie (Robb) enters the picture as the new kid at school. Her parents are writers so she's a bit more, um, bohemian. As neighbors, Jesse and Leslie share the same bus stop, and it's not long before they're venturing out into the woods together, leaving behind Jesse's adorable little sister (Bailee Madison). The two of them form an instant friendship and soon it becomes quite clear that Leslie has inherited her parents' fantastical imagination. She and Jesse use a rope swing to cross over a stream of some sort, and then they fix up a dilapidated tree house together, making it into a place that is theirs and theirs alone. In the interest of full disclosure, I have to delve into spoilers so that parents know what the deal is when they plunk down their hard-earned cash to take their kids to see this film. Parents should know what they're getting into, and because Disney doesn't want to give away a major plot point, they've cut trailers disguising the real thematic elements of this story. Here's the secret. About 3/5 into the movie, Leslie dies. That's right; Hollywood does the unthinkable and kills a kid. The death sends the film in a completely different direction and I, for one, totally went with it. Death is a scary thing for children (and everyone) and Bridge to Terabithia (and Hutcherson especially) handles the issue with grace. Credit director Gabor Csupo (Rugrats) with realizing this fantastical world and giving it some emotional weight so that the audience can really connect with the characters and feel their pain when the aforementioned tragedy strikes. Robb is a starlet-in-training. I predict she’ll give Dakota Fanning a run for her money one day. They could have a Britney-Christina or Paris-Nicole feud in the next few years. They’ll probably be up for a lot of the same roles too, so here’s to watching that non-existent catfight as it inevitably develops. There’s a real sweetness about her that Fanning lacks, if only because she seems so professional and businesslike already. She’s an “actress” and it’s refreshing to see that Robb is still a kid, even if she does carry herself like a young lady already. Who knows what Hutcherson will grow into but for now I think he’s capable of conveying real emotion onscreen. He really shows off a variety of complex emotions and I think kids will recognize him as a formidable young talent. And I guarantee we’ll be seeing Madison again, as she nearly steals the picture with her sickening cuteness. I wanted to pinch her cheeks like I was her long-lost 23 year-old grandfather. If anyone wanted to make a big screen Madeline adaptation, she’d be perfect. I don’t know where Hollywood finds these kids but they always do a good job, especially Walden Media, whose casting for Narnia was equally impressive. Lastly, the always-welcome Zooey Deschanel has a small role as the object of Jesse’s affection, his music teacher. And yes she still has the most beautiful pair of baby blues in the biz. Is it a perfect film? No. I think back and remember an awful lot of running. Apparently these kids are training for a mythical marathon or something. I guess kids these days just have so much energy, they all run everywhere they go like Forrest Gump. Maybe I was just a lazy 8th grader, I don't know. The CGI is done pretty well for the most part although there are a few shots where it's a bit too obvious that Hutcherson is acting in front of a green screen. The problem with the fantasy sequences is that there’s nothing particularly original or enchanting about them. The world of Terabithia is supposed to encapsulate Jesse and Leslie’s friendship but it’s pretty cut and dry and a little bit boring, considering the slow build-up to its reveal. Honestly it just seemed like an excuse to liven up the sorta bleak story with some snazzy special effects that never fail to put little tushies in seats. But the really wonderful thing about the film is that it never feels cloying or overly sentimental. It doesn't talk down to its audience. Instead, it levels with them. It tells kids that hey, sometimes accidents do happen, and life has to go on. You can still honor a loved one's memory by living life to its fullest. I would absolutely recommend this. It really is a strong family film, and one that children and parents should be able to enjoy. That’ll do it for me, folks. I’ll be back with a look at The Number 23 and a script review of Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. Parents wishing to thank me for this review can email me. ‘Til next time, this is MiraJeff signing off.