Bridge to Terabithia

Every time a decent children's movie comes out, it is almost certain that people will ignore it. Take Katherine Paterson's Newberry Award winning Bridge to Terabithia. It has no fart jokes, and unlike many children's movies, deals with some pretty serious issues. Even more unusual, it does so in a way that is not condescending towards kids. In other words, director Gaspar Csupo and adapters Jeff Stockwell (The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys) and Paterson's son David (Love, Ludlow) assume that kids do in fact have brain, and that they use them.

Jesse Aarons (Josh Hutcherson, RV, Zathura) uses his brain as a means of escape. He lives in a house with four sisters, and the budget can get tight at times. This means that his hand-me-downs include pink sneakers. His father (Robert Patrick, We Are Marshall, Flags of Our Fathers) pays little attention to him. Things are no better at school, where both boys and girls bully and make fun of him. So Jesse draws. He has a very productive imagination, and fills his notebook with colorful pictures. Drawing is a way for Jesse to escape into this own world, where he is safe and in control.

Racing is another thing that Jesse is better than the other students at. It is one of the only ways that he can earn the respect of other students. This plan doesn't work when Leslie Burke (AnnaSophia Robb, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Because of Winn-Dixie), the new girl, beats him and the other boys. Like Aaron, Leslie, who happens to live next to the Aarons, is a bit of an outcast. Her parents are authors, and Leslie dresses like she's a huge fan of punk music. Leslie reaches out to Jesse as a friend, and the two eventually begin to bond. They love exploring the woods behind their homes and create a magical land called Terabithia.

The themes in Bridge to Terabithia are similar to other kids movies. In fact, Because of Winn-Dixie, one of Robb's recent movies, uses a similar tactic - a kid who is something of an outcast learns about life and gains acceptance after a new friend comes into his/her life. In Winn-Dixie, it was a dog. Here, it's Leslie. Leslie's friendship with Jesse is exactly what he needs to realize that bullies at school and the situation at home do not need to hold him back. Together, the two see themselves as rulers of Terabithia, the only ones that can save the land from evil. The evils and problems in their real like have imaginary counterparts in Terabithia, and as they conquer their imaginary fears, they become stronger as kids and better able to tackle their problems in the real world. It's unusual to see such thought put into a children's story. The movie (and book) are entertaining, and has some meaningful life lessons for kids. Bridge to Terabithia takes a serious turn late in the movie (also unusual for children's film), but Csupo handles things in an even-handed manner.
Haro Rates It: Not Bad.
1 hour, 35 minutes, Rated PG for thematic elements including bullying, some peril, and mild language.

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