(a film review by Mark R. Leeper)

CAPSULE: Jess has a terrible life at home and at school. But situations get much more bearable and better when the new girl in town moves in next door and is enrolled in his class. She opens for him a whole new world of intellect and art and fantasy. The two are outcasts, but form a rich (platonic) relationship together that strengthens Jess for some of the emotional wrenches to come. This is a film that is by turns wonderful and heart-breaking. Do not expect a big special-effects fantasy. Fantasy and its power is just one theme among several well-presented themes. Rating: high +2 (-4 to +4) or 8/10

Gabor Csupo's film THE BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA is based on a classic children's book by Katherine Paterson, from a screenplay by Jeff Stockwell and David Patterson. I had never encountered the book but now wish that I had. This is a film about and for young adults, but curiously it is more adult and moving than most mass- market films. It stands with THE JOURNEY OF NATTY GANN and NEVER CRY WOLF as one of the best dramatic films to come from Disney.

Jess Aarons (played by Josh Hutcherson) is the one boy in a family with five children. His sisters gang up on him and the household is filled with tensions. His father (Robert Patrick) is stern and undemonstrative. At school he is prey to bullies. Life is unfriendly and unforgiving. But that all starts to change. A new girl moves into his class and into the house next door. Leslie (AnnaSophia Robb) is a weird kid whose family does not even own a television. She has, however, a wonderful mind and a powerful imagination. She chooses Jess to be her friend, almost forcing her friendship on him. It takes Jess a little while to warm up to her friendship, but when he does he realizes how wonderful Leslie really is. She opens his mind to a world of imagination and creativity. Together they create a fantasy kingdom called Terabithia out in the woods. Their relationship, which is incidentally kept meticulously asexual, is one of the richest and most complex that either could experience in a lifetime. The gusto with which they create fantasy worlds together is reminiscent of the relationship in Peter Jackson's HEAVENLY CREATURES minus the dark side. It also has in store for Jess one of the most tragic moments of his life.

Josh Hutcherson of ZATHURA: A SPACE ADVENTURE plays Jess and manages to convey a gamut of emotions that even adult actors rarely need. AnnaSophia Robb is perhaps not quite right for Leslie. Leslie is as bullied as Jess in school. It strikes me that a girl as attractive as Leslie is would draw the attention of the boys in the class and that would lead to an entirely different dynamic. However, director Gabor Csupo probably needed to make the audience partially fall in love with Leslie, so it an understandable casting choice. It is a little odd to see Robert Patrick playing Jess's father. He is familiar from action films like DIE HARD II. This is a very different sort of role for him.

The film takes the viewer through a gamut of emotions, including some that the younger children might find intense. It is not so much a fantasy as a film about the healing power of fantasy. With one foot in the real world and one in a fantasy world, THE BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA is reminiscent of the recent PAN'S LABYRINTH, though stylistically the films are quite different. I rate THE BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA a high +2 on the -4 to +4 scale or 8/10.

Film Credits:

					Mark R. Leeper
					Copyright 2007 Mark R. Leeper