Bridge to Terabithia Review
By Shawn McKenzie 02/18/2007
Eleven-year-old Jess Aarons (Josh Hutcherson) is a poor farm kid who lives with his large family. His father Jack (Robert Patrick) is a farmer who also works at a hardware store to make ends meet. He isn’t crazy about all of Jess’s dreaming and drawings. His mother Nancy (Kate Butler) doesn’t realize the needs of the only boy in this family populated by him and four sisters. Jess has three older sisters…Brenda (Devon Wood), Ellie (Emma Fenton), and Joyce (Grace Brannigan)…and one pesky younger sister named May Belle (Bailey Madison), who idolizes her older brother. All summer he has been training for his school’s big foot race on the first day of fifth grade, but he has a setback when his mother throws out his old shoes and swaps them with a pink-and-white hand-me-down pair from one of his older sisters. All he can do to save himself from embarrassment is to cover up the pink parts with a black marker. Unfortunately, the embarrassment doesn’t stop there. During the foot race, he is beaten by a new transfer student named Leslie Burke (Annasophia Robb), which inspires taunts by fellow students Scott Hoager (Cameron Wakefield), Gary Fulcher (Elliot Lawless), and large eighth grade school bully Janice Avery (Lauren Clinton)…who charges the other kids to go to the bathroom. He immediately doesn’t like the girl who beat him in the race, but when Leslie sees the drawings he makes in Mrs. “Monster Mouth” Myers’ (Jen Wolfe) class, and later when she gives him a stick of Juicy Fruit gum as a peace offering, they become friends. Jess also happens to have a crush on his music teacher Ms. Edmunds (Zooey Deschanel), who teaches them uplifting classic rock songs like War’s “Why Can’t We Be Friends,” Steve Earle’s “Someday,” and The Five Stairsteps’ “Ooh Child.” One day, while coming home from school, Jess and Leslie find a rope tied to a tree hanging over a stream on the edge of the woods. They swing over the stream and find a deserted tree house. They decide to make the tree house their castle, and they declare themselves the king and queen of an imaginary land Leslie calls Terabithia. Friendly creatures, like a swarm of fairies, populate the made up land…but it also has evil creatures, like the Hairy Vultures (inspired by Gary Fulcher), huge squirrels called Squogres (inspired by Scott Hoager), and a Giant (inspired by Janice Avery.) Also, Terabithia is being terrorized by a menace known as the Dark Master (Matt Gibbons.) An ally the two find is a stray shaggy dog that they name P.T. (Prince Terian.) Through their adventures in Terabithia, they learn how to deal with real issues in the real world.
A couple of weeks ago I posted a review of the awful crocodile horror flick Primeval, and one of my complaints was the misleading advertisement campaign. Walden Media, the producers of such fantastic children’s book adaptations such as 2005’s The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and last year’s Charlotte’s Web, produced this adaptation of Katherine Paterson’s 1977 Newbery Medal-winning novel Bridge to Terabithia. The studio, Buena Vista Pictures (a.k.a. Disney), has decided to sell the movie as a Narnia clone. Unlike that crappy croc pic, such ad deception wasn’t really needed, since the movie itself is wonderful on its own.
I know that when I first saw the trailers, I thought it looked like a wall-to-wall special effects extravaganza. At least I hoped that it would also have an interesting story to go along with the effects. When I did my usual pre-research of the movie, I realized that I had read the book when I was a kid. I then thought that there wasn’t anything in the book that had parts that would require tons of effects. I was proven right when I finally saw the movie. It was more of a touching family drama that was embellished occasionally with some scenes that were essentially only in the heads and imaginations of the two lead characters. Imagine 1991’s My Girl (minus the special effects) or last year’s Oscar-nominated Pan’s Labyrinth (minus the R-rated graphic violence.)
Those brief scenes of effects were cool though. Weta Digital Ltd., the New Zealand-based special effects company who has done most of director Peter Jackson’s fantasy movies (including all three Lord of the Rings movies and 2005’s King Kong), did this movie as well. My favorite part was the metallic glove that Jess uses to fight off an attack of the Squogres.
The main substance is the story though. It’s all about the loneliness that some kids can feel when they feel like they have no friends. Jess and Leslie may have families, but Jess has four sisters, a disapproving father, and a mother who doesn’t understand his needs…and Leslie is an only child who has two fiction-writing parents (played by Latham Gaines and Judy McIntosh) who are more concerned with their careers than with her. It’s only through the power of friendship that both kids realize that they don’t have to be alone. I have to warn parents though…the movie is very faithful to the book, so if you remember it, then you know what happens in the end. I won’t spoil it for you…but you may have some serious topics to discuss with them after they see it. You should definitely see this movie with your kids so that you can guide them through it. Paterson’s son David, a.k.a. the inspiration for the Jess character, was one of the co-writers of the screenplay (with The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys screenplay co-writer Jeff Stockwell.) They set the movie in our present (rather than in the present of 1977), but the story is the same. Gabor Csupo, the co-creator of Nickelodeon’s animated hits “The Rugrats” and “The Wild Thornberrys” makes his live action directorial debut with this movie. He managed to balance the fantasy with the reality that worked well together. The director and the screenwriters had nothing to do with the marketing, so I don’t blame them in the slightest on how it was sold to the public.
If the movie had no special effects in it at all, it would still be a good movie based on the story and the great acting. I almost feel obligated to mention that Robb is a Denver native (the city where Entertain Your Brain is based…or rather a suburb of the city), and I like to support Colorado natives (such as Trey Parker/Matt Stone, Don Cheadle, Douglas Fairbanks, director David Fincher, Tim Allen, Roseanne Barr, Jessica Biel, Lon Chaney, Hattie McDaniel, etc.) Fortunately, she does my home state proud by giving an excellent performance. She made her cinematic debut in another Walden Media adaptation, 2005’s Because of Winn-Dixie, where she gave a good performance in an average movie. After giving a memorable performance as the spoiled Violet Beauregarde in 2005’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, she took a year off and then did this movie. Next up for the actress is her first non-family film, the R-rated horror movie The Reaping, which is scheduled for release in April. While I doubt it will be a movie that will earn her an Oscar nomination, at least it shows her range as an actress. Hutcherson did a good job in 2005’s Jumanji sequel, Zathura, but he didn’t really make an impact in last year’s Robin Williams comedy RV. Next up for him is another family comedy called Firehouse Dog (also scheduled for release in April), and based on the trailers, it looks a little stupid. Robb and Hutcherson have great chemistry in this movie though, which is what matters here. Robert “T-1000” Patrick manages to be gruff and distant, but still loving. Deschanel gave what was probably her best non-funny/quirky performance of her career so far. I was a little concerned about her for a while, because I thought that she might not be able to do drama without her trademark comedic quips.
Bridge to Terabithia is a film that the whole family would enjoy. I do understand the need for the studio to pull in audiences based on the special effects, but if you listen to any critics at all, listen to this one…check out this movie…Squogres, Vultures, Giants, and all.
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