Annasophia Robb, Josh Hutcherson, Zooey Deschanel, Robert Patrick
Jeff Stockwell, David Paterson, Katherine Paterson (book)
Buena Vista/Walden Media
When I first watched the young AnnaSophia Robb, in the underrated "Because of Winn-Dixie," I became convinced that Robb could easily turn into a remarkable young actress along the lines of Dakota Fanning or this year's Oscar-nominated Abigail Breslin.
In "Bridge to Terabithia," a film based upon the Newbery Medal winning children's book by Katharine Paterson, AnnaSophia Robb cements her cinematic arrival with a performance that is mature, captivating, innocent and complex.
Much like "Because of Winn-Dixie," "Bridge to Terabithia" is a bit of a throwback film to the days when plot mattered in kid's films, characters were fully developed and when special effects occurred they were intertwined with the story...not THE story.
While Disney seems to be marketing the film as a bit of a fantasy film along the lines of "Chronicles of Narnia," the film actually has much more in common with the aforementioned "Because of Winn-Dixie" and another remarkably underrated film, "When Zachary Beaver Came to Town."
The film introduces us to Jesse Aarons (Josh Hutcherson of "Zathura"), a 10-year-old more interested in creative pursuits than sports or play...a fact that makes him the frequent target of school bullies until the arrival of Leslie (Robb), who adores writing and becomes the target of bullies (for awhile by Jesse himself).
Ultimately, their common interests create a marvelous, dreamlike friendship that is both innocent and intriguing and never, much like "Winn-Dixie," ventures into a flirtfest. Instead, the friendship between Leslie and Jesse becomes a safe place for both of these young kids, for whom life is often challenging and for whom the mutual friendship becomes a place to dream, explore, express and believe.
While there are fantastic moments and touches of the "Narnia" feeling in "Bridge to Terabithia," the film is clearly and beautifully centered on friendship, imagination and dreams.
Fans of Paterson's "Bridge to Terabithia" will know what to expect from this film, and young people who've read the books won't be surprised to find a film that doesn't talk down to them and, in fact, obviously respects their thoughts and feelings. There are moments of great sadness in "Bridge to Terabithia," and I'd venture to say that both adults and children alike will experience teary-eyed moments during the film.
The adults in the film, including a teacher who discovers Jesse's talent (played by Zooey Deschanel) and Jesse's father (Robert Patrick) are wonderful complements to a film that is clearly centered upon the children's lives.
Director Gabor Csupa (who founded the studio that gave us the "Rugrats" films) has created a wonderful world that in many ways feels like a child's version of the already childlike "Pan's Labyrinth." While the film occasionally dips a bit too feverishly into the fantasy themes, the performances of both Hutcherson and Robb always seem to pull it back and keep it centered.
One should note that the film does include a scene of rather intense tragedy towards the film's end that, while still feeling age-appropriate, should also leave room for a serious parent/child conversation after the film.
The disturbing thing for me is not that "Bridge to Terabithia" is brought to us by the same studio that brought us "Santa Clause 3." The disturbing thing is that, somehow, "Santa Clause 3" type films somehow always seem to make more money.
So, here this and here this loudly.
"Bridge to Terabithia" is family cinema the way it should be done...intelligent, entertaining and age-appropriate for both young children and adults. You skipped "Because of Winn-Dixie" and odds are you've not even heard of "When Zachary Beaver Came to Town." Do yourself and your child a favor and head out to your local movie theatre to see "Bridge to Terabithia."
Without a doubt, "Bridge to Terabithia" is the family film highlight of early 2007!
- Richard Propes
The Independent Critic