I never read Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia but judging from the movie adaptation, it seemed like a book worth treasuring. This is a fine family movie. I prefer this over the first movie of The Chronicles of Narnia series – it is easier to relate and much more useful for children. While both worlds are about kids who enter a new world, Bridge to Terabithia is not entirely separate from reality. Here is a film informing children that fantasy does not simply happen in books or movies. It is a great message for a growing generation, fed in visual images instead of creating ones on their own.

The movie is about a boy named Jess Aarons (Josh Hutcherson). His life is anything but exciting. At home, the family is barely getting by on a tight budget. At school, his classmates tease him. Then, one day, a spirited new classmate enters his mundane world. Her name is Leslie and she just happens to live in close proximity. Pretty soon, Jess and Leslie become best pals. After school, they play in a nearby forest and pretend they are in a magic kingdom called Terabithia. This is their secret place, a haven from all the troubles from home and school.

Bridge to Terabithia is intriguing to watch since the plot works in different layers. Terabithia is not just a magic place created out of nowhere. The kids’ reality very much influences the imagined sanctuary. For example, the squirrels and the giant troll they fight in Terabithia are representation of the taunting bullies in school. It makes the fantasy part of the film more meaningful. Terabithia is simply another way of seeing or dealing with reality.

Josh Hutcherson, who was wonderful in Little Manhattan, is proving to be a child actor of value. His character Jess immediately drew me in; perhaps it was the doing of his genuinely sad eyes. The actress who play Leslie, AnnaSophia Robb, is pretty good too. As a contrast to the cheerless Jess, she is a bottle of joy, full of light. She is constantly happy – without being annoyingly perky. This is like the kind of roles Kirsten Dunst would play if she were younger.

Without these two talented kids, the movie would not have worked so well. The strength of the movie depends on how much we truly care for them and how much we are convinced of their strong bond. Hutcherson and Robb do their jobs well and they do so with subtlety. By the time the movie arrives at its third act, you might not know what hits you. Like most great films, Bridge to Terabithia has an undeniable power to move a viewer in a deep, poignant manner. Its prescription is to keep a healthy dose of imagination to fight instances when reality can be dangerously unimaginable.

Grade: A-

Josh Hutcherson, AnnaSophia Robb, Zooey Deschanel, Robert Patrick, Bailee Madison, and Lauren Clinton
Based on the novel by
Katherine Paterson
Screenplay by
Jeff Stockwell
David Paterson
Directed by
Gabor Csupo
Rated PG for thematic elements including bullying, some peril and mild language