A great many problems with Bridge to Terabithia could have been solved by casting, and unfortunately director Gabor Csupo gets that wrong from the start. The protagonist, Jesse Aarons, a lonely fifth grader in a small town, is played with sullen inattention by Josh Hutcherson. His better half is Leslie Burke, the new girl in town, performed by AnnaSophia Robb with a bright and shallow perkiness that suggests a callow Keira Knightley 10 years ago. With not much going in the way of interpersonal chemistry between the two leads, it's difficult for the film's rather (on the surface) uneventful and deeply interior story to gain much traction.
The gist of the matter is that both Jesse and Leslie are pretty miserable, as is the lot of many isolated fifth graders. They're both picked on by bullies and their respective home lives are less than great -- Jesse's parents are working all the time when they're not yelling at him, and Leslie's mom and dad are self-involved writers who barely notice when she's not there. As a means of escape, the two spend their days after school let out back in a deep patch of woods near their houses, reachable only by a rope swing over a turbulent creek. Back there, in a falling-down treehouse, they create the imaginary world of Terabithia, filled with magical creatures, a Dark Lord, and the occasional battle with the forces of evil. Beats geometry homework.
A major concern among fans of the book is that the backers of the film (Disney, as well as Christian media group Walden, which is behind the Narnia films) would turn the story into a special effects extravaganza; this at least didn't happen. The CGI scenes that Csupo enlists to graphically illustrate the fantasy life of Jesse and Leslie are kept thankfully brief. The heart of the film is indeed supposed to be Jesse and Leslie's friendship -- as well as the surprising (at least for those not familiar with the book) tragedy that turns the movie on its head near the end -- and it's not the fault of the special effects that this heart is simply not beating.
For Bridge to Terabithia to work at all, it needed a strong dose of something that is simply not here. The brightly generic camerawork, cliché-clogged screenplay, flat acting styles (though character actors like Robert Patrick and Zooey Deschanel do decent work in small roles), and a couple preachy nods to the wonders of religion reduce this potentially heartbreaking tale to something cheap and ordinary. This isn't art, it's product.
No running on the bridge.
Run time: 96 mins
In Theaters: Friday 16th February 2007
Box Office USA: $82.2M
Box Office Worldwide: $137.6M
Distributed by: Buena Vista
Production compaines: Walt Disney Pictures, Walden Media
Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 85%
Fresh: 133 Rotten: 24
IMDB: 7.2 / 10
Director: Gabor Csupo
Producer: Lauren Levine, Hal Liberman, David Paterson
Screenwriter: Jeff Stockwell, David Paterson
Starring: Josh Hutcherson as Jess Aarons, AnnaSophia Robb as Leslie Burke, Zooey Deschanel as Ms. Edmunds, Kate Butler as Mary Aarons, Bailee Madison as May Belle Aarons, Robert Patrick as Jack Aarons, Grace Brannigan as Joyce Aarons, Emma Fenton as Ellie Aarons, Lauren Clinton as Janice Avery, Isabelle Rose Kircher as Carla, Patricia Aldersley as Grandma Burke, Judy McIntosh as Judy Burke, Latham Gaines as Bill Burke, Carly Owen as Madison, James Gaylyn as Principal Turner, Jen Wolfe as Mrs. Myers, Ian Harcourt as Bus Driver
Also starring: Jeff Stockwell