"Bridge to Terabithia" is a surprising movie, it's not only surprisingly good but it's also surprisingly not what I thought it would be. I expected it to be a movie with a message, a lesson learned through a friendship formed by two child outsiders but it wasn't. Or maybe it was, maybe the message, the lesson learned is the power of the imagination to escape from a less than perfect reality. But if that was the message it wasn't heavy leaving "Bridge to Terabithia" to be a very good movie with a bitter sweet tale about a friendship and a place built out of imagination.
Expecting to win a school race Jess (Josh Hutcherson - RV) is less than happy when he is beaten by Leslie (AnnaSophia Robb - Because of Winn-Dixie) a new girl in school. Despite a less than great introduction Jess and Leslie become best friends and together allow their minds to run wild as they create a fantasy land called Terabithia where they can forget their troubles in the real world and enjoy being King and Queen. But when tragedy strikes Jess realises that thanks to Leslie he knows how to deal with it.
Although "Bridge to Terabithia" is an adaptation of Katherine Paterson's book it's hard not to pick up on some influences, there are elements of Narnia and Harry Potter brought present in the movie. But whilst the final production is obviously influenced it still stands on its own two feet and tells a wonderful tale. We warm to Jess and Leslie as we learn about their situations, Jess being the only boy in a female dominated family, Leslie a child left to her own devices whilst her parents busily write. And we also warm to the fantasy world they create as they become friends, using their imaginations to create a land where their problems are left behind.
It's not all sweetness and light as there are darker elements; bullies from school appear in their fantasy world as bad guys allowing Jess and Leslie to beat them when in real life they are picked upon. And rather than delivering a tale which is pure sweetness there is a shocking reality check, something which took me by surprise but made the movie so much better for not being all peaches and cream.
The strange thing is that these sorts of movies tend to heavily deliver a life lesson and yet "Bridge to Terabithia" doesn't feel like it has one. It sort of floats along allowing us to take pleasure from watching Jess and Leslie become best friends and creating a fantasy world from their imaginations. And that is probably the lesson, the importance of friendship but also the power of our imagination. Yet it is so subtly delivered it never dominates the movie or feels forced down are throats leaving "Bridge to Terabithia" to be a pleasant movie for children and adults alike.
Despite featuring a cast which includes Robert Patrick and Zooey Deschanel "Bridge to Terabithia" relies heavily on the talents of its two young stars Josh Hutcherson and AnnaSophia Robb. Both of these young stars do a brilliant job, with Hutcherson delivering the reserve of a kid who feels alone as well as almost resentful of being the put upon boy in a family dominated by women. And then Robb brings both energy and cuteness as the quirky Leslie whilst also allowing a little vulnerability to creep in. Together the two work well making it believable that Jess and Leslie are best friends without it ever becoming painfully cliche.
What this all boils down to is that "Bridge to Terabithia" is a surprisingly good movie which works for all ages. It is a bitter sweet tale, one which whilst taking us into a world of fantasy doesn't pull its punches when it comes to real life. And whilst it doesn't heavy handedly ram a life lesson down are throats it reminds us of not only the importance of friendship but also the power of our own minds.