Bridge to Terabithia
Dir. Gabor Csupo. 2007. PG. 93mins. Josh Hutcherson, AnnaSophia Robb, Zooey Deschanel, Robert Patrick.
Since its publication in 1977, Katherine Paterson’s Newbery Award–winning novel has been the definitive book for teaching your kids about death and dying. In the hands of animator Csupo (the cocreator of Rugrats, directing his first live-action feature), it becomes the go-to movie for teaching your kids about the same. It’s shameless and manipulative, but it has a certain pedagogical efficiency. To soft-pedal the material would be to neuter it, but to be faithful to it requires supreme earnestness—a mode that may prove a chore in itself for saccharine-averse adults.
The story concerns poor kid Jess Aarons (Hutcherson) and his life-changing friendship with his Christ-figure neighbor, Leslie Burke (Robb)—a girl fast enough to outrun the boys, sensitive enough to offer to help the school music teacher (Deschanel) and creative enough to conceive of an extracurricular playland called Terabithia. In the woods by their houses, Jess and Leslie spend their afternoons pretending they’re in a world of giant trolls, friendly dragonflies and noble canine protectors.
The fantasy sequences are refreshingly low-key—gentle, half-cartoon creations well within the bounds of real fourth-graders’ imaginations. But the leaden dramatic scenes—in which Patrick out-grunts Nick Nolte as Jess’s tough-love father—exude the aura of a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie. As time passes, viewers may find themselves fantasizing about less pedestrian storytelling. (Opens Fri)—BK