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BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Josh Hutcherson, AnnaSophia Robb, Robert Patrick, Zooey Deschanel
Director: Gabor Csupo
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Surround, Spanish Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Disney
Features: See Review
Length: 96 Minutes
Release Date: June 19, 2007

ďJust close your eyes and keep your mind wide open.Ē

Film ***1/2

In all of literature, rarely has there been a book more enchanting and deeply moving than Katherine Patersonís Bridge to Terabithia. I remember the story very well. It had been required reading in middle school and there was also a TV movie version made by PBS, if Iím not mistaken.

So when I learned that Disney was going to be officially translating this timeless tale to the big screen, I was both anticipated and skeptic. It was great to see this book get itís moment as a feature film, but I had my fingers crossed as to whether Disney was going to handle the material faithfully. I grew more concerned when I saw the trailer, which looked as if they were selling this as something more in the vein of Harry Potter or The Chronicles of Narnia.

But I gave the film the benefit of the doubt, and Iím so glad I did. Not only is Bridge to Terabithia one of the absolute best live action films to come from Disney, but itís very much one of the best film adaptations of a book Iíve ever seen. Nothing was sacrificed in terms of the original story, and I give Disney huge bonus points for taking a risk and making a film that really is distinctive from a great deal of the family films made today.

Jesse Aarons (Josh Hutcherson) is a 10 year old who possesses an artistic gift. He has an open imagination when it comes to drawing. But he isnít able to gain much attention with his talent, as both his family and classmates canít seem to see any sort of value in it. He also happens to be a frequent target of school bullies.

So just when it seems that Jesse will be a friend-less school outcast for life, the arrival of a new student to the school manages to change all that. Her name is Leslie Burke (AnnaSophia Robb), and it isnít long after they meet that Jesse realizes that he shares a common interest with her; the power of the imagination. And it also doesnít take long for Leslie to become, like Jesse, a target for bullies because of her eccentric qualities.

Leslie, new to the town, also happens to be Jesseís new next-door neighbor. And with both of them being outcasts, as well as sharing a similar gift and living next door to each other, the two are able to find something both need; a devoted friendship. And they also find a way to escape the pressures of school, by venturing to the nearby woods and create a world out of their own minds.

The world they create soon becomes the world of Terabithia. And through the filmís wonderful visual effects, we see Jesse and Leslieís imaginations brought to extraordinary life. Characters of all sorts, from trolls to man-eating squirrels, appear before us in such an invigorating way that youíd swear to yourself that the twoís imagination is actually happening.

This becomes a daily routine that both Jesse and Leslie look forward to after school, and we canít wait for them to make it to the woods. As a result of their imaginary adventures, they both start to see things a little brighter than before. Whatís more, they arenít so afraid of the troubles that await them at school.

The story also provides perfectly timed subplots. One involves Jesseís relationship with his charismatic music teacher, Ms. Edmonds (Zooey Deschanel), who sees and admires the artistic talent he possesses. Another involving feared school bully Janice Avery (Lauren Clinton), who is mean and heartless as any bully, until Jesse and Leslie learn the reason for her behavior. And Jesseís relationship with both his father (Robert Patrick) and younger sister, May Belle (Bailee Madison) is another important subplot, since both relationships arenít where they should be.

But the strongest point in Bridge to Terabithia is the handling of a major tragedy that occurs close to the storyís end. If youíve read the book, you know exactly what Iím referring to. I wonít dare give away what happens, but let me tell you that no other film in recent memory has forced me to shed more tears than this. Even though I knew what to expect, the movie managed to make it even more heartbreaking than before.

Rarely have I seen acting this superb in a family-oriented film, and I mean truly top of the line acting. In the two lead roles, Josh Hutcherson and AnnaSophia Robb light up the screen throughout the movie, bringing to the screen one of the most touching friendships. I can very much say that we will be seeing much more from them in years to come, even though each has already appeared in numerous films (Hutcherson in Zathura and Kicking and Screaming, Robb in Because of Winn-Dixie and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory).

Itís been a while since Iíve been able to honestly recommend a truly terrific family film. Bridge to Terabithia is indeed the epitome a great family movie. And though itís good to prepare the young ones for the emotionally charged finale, Bridge to Terabithia is one film that families shouldnít dare miss.

BONUS: Talk about a change of pace. Director Gabor Csupo had previously been an animation director for both The Simpsons and Rugrats.

Video ****

What a delightful feast for the eyes! The anamorphic picture, courtesy of Disney, excels in dynamic visual quality from one scene to the next. The scenes in the world of Terabithia are showstopping moments that really amaze the senses. The image is consistently sharp and clear, with fantastic colors to match!

Audio ****

The sweeping 5.1 mix helps pull you into this magical world with its dynamic sound quality. Dialogue delivery is that of pure, clear perfection. In addition the filmís music score by Aaron Zigman delivers quite the punch and the filmís numerous adventure sequences are executed with the best use of surround sound, bringing the world of Terabithia to even greater life.

Features ***

Some nice extras on this Disney release, including two commentary tracks; one with Director Gabor Csupo, Writer Jeff Stockwell and Producer Hal Lieberman, the second with stars Josh Hutcherson and AnnaSophia Robb and Producer Lauren Levine. Also featured are two featurettes; ďBehind the Book: The Themes of Bridge to TerabithiaĒ and ďDigital Imagination: Bringing Terabithia to LifeĒ. Lastly, there is a music video for the song ďKeep Your Mind Wide OpenĒ by AnnaSophia Robb.

Summary:

There have been some decent family movies over the years, but Bridge to Terabithia is quite simply the absolute best to come around in recent memory. Itís a movie that you wonít soon forget, about the power of the imagination and the beauty of true friendship.

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