The film opens with Jesse “Jess” Aarons (Josh Hutcherson) running the open fields near his family’s farmstead—his bit of happiness before another long day at school where bullies are bullying and friends are nonexistent. Jess comes home to a house full of sisters and a father that has forgotten the importance of maintaining a relationship with his only son.. Hutcherson has always had an incredible ability to bring his characters to life (I highly recommend Little Manhattan), and Terabithia is another fine example of a young actor who somehow knows, and portrays without flaw, the heartache of growing up.
The story truly takes flight when Jess arrives to school after a long summer filled with running, ready to prove he’s the fastest runner in his grade. He’s lined up and ready to race several boys, mostly bullies, when Leslie Burke (AnnaSophia Robb)—the new girl in school—decides to join the fun. Jess loses to a girl. But Leslie Burke isn’t just any girl, she’s different and everyone seems to notice that she’s not like them—which, when you’re young tends to get you marked as an outcast. However, Leslie doesn’t seem to mind that everyone laughs at her because she knows something they don’t, she knows how to weave a magical tale inside her mind and live in the glorious scope of her imagination.
Leslie immediately notices something different in Jess, too and attempts to talk with him, strike up a friendship like no other—despite his initial disinterest because she beat him at the race. Jess quickly warms up to Leslie and finds himself eager to spend more time with her, to experience childhood and the world she seems to live within. Jess and Leslie, who are neighbors, wander through the woods together and it’s there that they discover an old swinging rope that connects one side of a nearly dry river to the other. Leslie, ever-so-eager to explore, tells Jess they need a place all their own. A place without bullies. Without absent-minded parents. Leslie begins to open Jess’s eyes to the possibility around them. She convinces him to swing across the “enchanted rope” to the other side where their kingdom awaits them.
Once across the river, the movie transforms into a magical, “Narnia“-esque tale. The children begin to invent creatures to battle, trolls to fear, and darkness to overcome. One of the most memorable moments is when Leslie and Jess stand atop their castle (Which is an old tree house they eventually fix up in one of the film’s several montages set to pop rock music that completely takes you out of the film and as far from any resemblance of magic as possible) and look out over the farmland. Leslie instantly sees a kingdom filled with waterfalls, mountains, and gorgeous landscape. Jess, however, has trouble seeing things so beautifully. After a moment’s encouragement and a pause to let go of everything he knows to be true, Jess opens his eyes and sees the world as lovely as he dreamed. There are many wonderful moments like this thorough the film, but there are a few drawbacks that keep the film from living up to Paterson’s book.
At only 96 minutes, it feels as if pieces of the story were missing. There is a sense throughout the film that the story is going somewhere dramatic, powerful, moving even, but when the story reaches the height of climax you feel as if you’ve been caught of guard, unfulfilled. The twist (which, it should be said, this is a story for older children as the material is a bit heavier than the average family film) in Terabithia, while moving, seems too fall a tad flat without a bit more time spent with Leslie and Jess in Terabithia. For all the beauty Terabithia has to offer, it feels as if the director simply forgot to include some essential bonding scenes that help us get to know Jess and Leslie in the way we need to in order for the ending to have more of an impact. Terabithia is incredible to look at, but we spend so little time there it simply gets lost in the story of two young children who were lonely and in need of a friend. While a great story on its own, it’s Terabithia that provides the extra something, the meaning behind their change, and without more time there, the story loses out. Also, the relationship with Jess and his father (Robert Patrick) needed to be explored a bit more as well.
Overall, “Bridge to Terabithia” is a wonderful story about finding a way to deal with your disappointments and the beauty of true friendship. AnnaSophia Robb and Josh Hutcherson carry the film, and I can’t imagine anyone else in their roles. Robb is endearing and believable as Leslie. Robb captures Leslie’s free spirited, deeply imaginative nature perfectly. Zooey Deschanel offers a warm performance as their music teacher—and Jess’ crush—Ms. Edmonds. Bridge to Terabithia is a finely woven tale that provides an unsuspected ending and an a new way to open your eyes to the world around you and those who live within. Although, I recommend reading the book first, the film—while not flawless— is an engaging story that touches the heart and inspires the imagination.
VIDEO: "Bridge" is presented by Disney Home Entertainment in 1.85;1 anamorphic widescreen. This is a lush, beautiful transfer of the fantasy/drama, with only a few minor concerns. Sharpness and detail are terrific, with every detail of the film's sets and effects clearly visible. Fine details are often visible in close-up, as well.
Aside from a few minor instances of edge enhancement, the presentation remained clean and clear, with no artifacting or pixelation. The print also was free of specks and marks, as well. Colors were bright and natural throughout, with no smearing and perfect saturation. Black level remained solid, while flesh tones looked accurate and natural.
SOUND: The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack was stellar, providing an impressive and enveloping audio experience during the fantasy sequences, which provided creatures stomping and flying overhead. These sequences used the surrounds to good effect and provided some deep, punchy bass. The rest of the film was more dialogue-driven and provided more front-heavy audio and sounded perfectly fine, with crisp dialogue.
EXTRAS: Two commentaries are included: actors Josh Hutcherson and AnnaSophia Robb, as well as producer Lauren Levine provide one commentary track, while director Gabor Csupo, screenwriter Jeff Stockwell and producer Hal Lieberman chat about the film on the other track. The two commentaries provide a nice mix of different insights about the production, with the actors' commentary being of more appeal to kids, while adults can turn to the director's track. We also get two short featurettes: "Digital Imagination: Bringing Terabithia to Life" and "Behind the Book: The Themes of Bridge to Terabithia".
Final Thoughts: "Bridge to Terabithia" is a mostly very enjoyable fantasy/drama, with superb acting and a refreshing emphasis on story and character over visuals, with the film's few visual effects sequences in service of the story, not the other way around. The DVD presentation offers excellent audio/video, as well as a solid selection of supplements. Recommended.
The Film B+