Bridge to Terabithia



This review was written for the theatrical release of "Bridge to Terabithia." 

Author Katherine Paterson's Newbery Award-winning "Bridge to Terabithia," about a pair of outsider school kids who create a vivid fantasy world to deal with the frustrations in their young lives, has made that tricky passage to the big screen faithfully intact.

A gently contained live-action feature debut by Gabor Csupo, co-founder of the busy animation studio Klasy-Csupo, the fantasy-adventure incorporates the novel's magical and emotional elements without overplaying either -- a balance that hasn't always proven easy to maintain in the world of kid-lit adaptation.

While Disney's advertising seems to be aimed at those hankering for another "Chronicles of Narnia" (minus the lion, witch, wardrobe and production budget), this Walden Media co-presentation functions more as something of a tween "Pan's Labyrinth," and, as such, could translate into solid, midrange business.

Of course, being true to the source material helps when one of your screenwriters is Paterson's son David, for whom the novel was written almost 30 years ago. He and Jeff Stockwell ("The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys") efficiently lay down that road that leads to Terabithia with the introduction of lead characters Jess (Josh Hutcherson) and Leslie (Annasophia Robb).

He's a budding artist when he's not doing chores for his struggling farmer parents (Robert Patrick, Kate Butler) or being tormented by his four sisters or the reigning school bullies.

She's the ostracized new girl in class, the only child of a pair of successful writers whose vivid imagination and unique fashion sense set her apart from the other students.

Unsurprisingly they become fast friends, and after some initial resistance on Jess' part, he succumbs to Leslie's keenly developed vision of Terabithia, a fantastical kingdom accessed by swinging on an enchanted rope across a stream and into the woods, where their foes have morphed into hairy vultures and giant ogres.

But there are some unpleasant aspects of life from which even Terabithia cannot offer sanctuary.

Director Csupo, whose animated output has included "Rugrats" and "The Simpsons," maintains a firm but never heavy-handed grip on those darker developments.

It's a pleasing equilibrium that also extends to the film's prudent use of visual effects, provided by New Zealand-based Weta Digital (the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, "The Chronicles of Narnia"), and the thoughtful performances of his predominantly young cast, as well as from the always-welcome Zooey Deschanel as a sensitive music teacher, even if the plot mechanics that make her a key third act player feel unconvincingly forced.

Also contributing to the appealing production is that lush New Zealand footage taken by cinematographer Michael Chapman ("Raging Bull") as well as a score by Aaron Zigman that demonstrates a similar appreciation for the power of understatement.

Buena Vista Pictures
Walt Disney Pictures and Walden Media present a Hal Lieberman Co. production A Lauren Levine production
Director: Gabor Csupo
Screenwriters: Jeff Stockwell and David Paterson
Based on the book by: Katherine Paterson
Producers: Hal Lieberman, Lauren Levine, David Paterson
Executive producer: Alex Schwartz
Director of photography: Michael Chapman
Production designer: Rob Gillies
Editor: John Gilbert
Costume designer: Barbara Darragh
Music: Aaron Zigman
Jess Aarons: Josh Hutcherson
Leslie Burke: Annasophia Robb
Ms. Edmonds: Zooey Deschanel
Jack Aarons: Robert Patrick
May Belle Aarons: Bailey Madison
Nancy Aarons: Kate Butler
Running time -- 95 minutes
MPAA rating: PG