With a trailer featuring computer-generated giants and swarms of insect-like warriors, Disney is far too eager to pawn “Bridge to Terabithia” off as a standard “Chronicles of Narnia” replica. With the current popularity of children’s fantasy flicks, you can hardly blame them. “Bridge,” however, adapted from Katherine Paterson’s award-winning novel, better captures the joys and pains of childhood than other CGI kids’ fare.
The story follows Jess Aarons (Josh Hutcherson, “Zathura”), a boy tormented by bullies at school and financial woes at home. He wears hand-me-downs from his older sisters, coloring over their old pink sneakers with a black marker. His greatest passion is drawing in his notebook, and he takes any opportunity to drift away from his bleak reality into the refuge of his imagination.
When a tomboy named Leslie Burke (Annasophia Robb, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”) moves in next door, the two quickly become friends and eventually create their own magical kingdom, Terabithia, in the woods where they happily reign together as king and queen. But their togetherness won’t last forever – heartbreak’s in store.
Rather than concerning itself with the imaginary Terabithia and its mythology, “Bridge” focuses on the dynamic between its two young leads. Jess, bogged down by his family’s hardships and his father’s expectations, is constantly depressed, and Leslie’s eccentricity makes her an easy target at school. But these two aren’t just friends – they’re soulmates. Together they thrive with a charming vivacity nicely captured by director Gabor Csupo (one half of the Klasky-Csupo production team behind such Nickelodeon favorites as “Rugrats” and “Aaahh! Real Monsters”).
Unfortunately, the film’s greatest strength – Terabithia itself – is also its downfall. In the novel, Katherine Paterson uses Terabithia not only as an enchanting alternative reality, but also as an extended allegory that gives insight into the book’s real-life developments. Like recent hit “Pan’s Labyrinth,” “Bridge” should have taken a more fantasy-heavy route. In failing to develop Terabithia, Csupo abandons a critical aspect of the book, stripping away the fantasy of the story and turning it into a familiar rehash of 1991’s “My Girl” – strong drama, but little escapism.
Bridge to Terabithia
At the Quality 16 and Showcase