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Jess Aarons (Josh Hutcherson) is an outsider at school and even in his own family. Jess has trained all summer to become the fastest kid in his middle school class but his goal is unexpectedly thwarted by the new girl, Leslie Burke (Annasophia Robb). Despite their awkward introduction, the two outsiders become best friends. Leslie loves to tell stories of fantasy and magic. Jess loves to draw, but until he meets Leslie it is something he keeps to himself. Together they create the secret and fantastic kingdom of Terabithia, a magical place only accessible by an old swinging rope over a stream in the woods near their homes. There, the friends rule the kingdom, fight the Dark Master and his creatures and plot against the school bullies.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Books are so often the source of magical thinking, and books aimed at children (from toddlers to late teens) often prise open the reader's mind with notions that the cinema can now capture and recreate with varying degrees of success, ranging from The Lord of the Rings heights to unmentionable failures.

If you haven't read the book (like me) adults will come to the movie adaptation of Bridge to Terabithia with no expectations - but will be rewarded with an intelligent and engaging film that is also moving and compelling. Much of the film's action takes us into a magic forest where the fantasy world is brought to life by our two principal characters' imaginations; managing to make this a charming magicalism is one of Gabor Csupo's biggest feats. While the beasts and creatures are digitally created, they retain an earthy link to the fairy tale reality that Jess Aarons (Josh Hutcherson) and his new neighbour and classmate Leslie Burke (Annasophia Robb) conjure up in their vigorous minds.

Both young leads satisfy with endearing performances that are naturalistic and free of schmalz. Annasophia is especially effective as the spirited and lively youngest who helps Jess come out of his shell and use his drawing talents.

Adults are also well drawn, and the film's dramatic intensity gathers traction as the plot takes a dramatic turn in the final act, leaving audiences heartbroken and tearful - especially the targeted pre-teens, many of whom will have identified strongly with the two heroes. But it's a Disney film and the ending reinstates a happier mood.

Direction, too, is effective, Csupo avoiding clichés and manipulation to reveal truths about character and human nature that gives the film plenty of ballast. Aaron Zigman's orchestral score is rich, and production design by New Zealander Robert Gillies (film was shot on New Zealand locations) is beautiful without being twee.

Review by Louise Keller:
"Get your head out of the cloud," Jesse's father tells him, wanting his son to help with the chores, instead of losing himself in his sketch book. Drawing is Jesse's (Josh Hutcherson) escape from the reality in which he finds himself - ridiculed at school and ignored at home. Until he finds a kindred spirit in AnnaSophia Robb's new girl, Leslie, with whom he discovers a wondrous imaginary world, when he heeds to her advice to 'open your mind wide'. Adapted from Katherine Paterson's novel, this beautifully drawn family friendly film explores the power of the imagination, bonding two like-souls as they create their own world, far away from their bleak everyday.

'Making up is different from lying,' Leslie tells Jess, when he is captivated by her storytelling abilities in class. Together by swinging on the rope that acts as a bridge to the fantasy land of Terabithia, they find their own special place where dragonflies are warriors and falling trees are giant trolls. Key to the success of the film is the performance of the two leads: Hutcherson as the ordinary farm boy and Robb as the exuberant pixie-like dreamer with stars in her eyes. Their relationship forms the foundation of the story, as they share their most precious possession - their imagination.

Fantasy counters the loneliness, bullying, guilt and boredom of their lives. We understand the relationships: May Belle (Bailee Madison) as Jess's adorable little sister and Janice (Lauren Clinton) as the school bully who hides a vulnerability below her toughness. In the second half, the storyline changes directions and Jess, like us, finds himself facing painful, unexpected events. The film's moods swing as high and low as the rope that takes us from one side of the river to the other, and director Gabor Csupo handles them all astutely and with great sensitivity. This is a richly layered story that will touch all ages.

Review by Gemma Urban:
Bridge to Terabithia sings a loud song of praise to the imagination of the young, while it tells a tale of how the true meaning of friendship empowers the spirit and even opens doors, eyes, ears and hearts downloading us to escape into the journey Leslie and Jess discover together. Wild, passionate and new in the town, Leslie sets her sights on befriending Jess, the young loner child of a humble upbringing, and poor parents. They live next door to each other, and it seems nothing could tear their adventurous spirits apart. They yearn for excitement, fantasy and reality. The unexpected takes centre stage, and the thrill of their ride makes way for unexpected changes in their lives.

The rich story engages our senses and imaginations, as it leads us into the world of Terabithia, a place of the unexpected and of adventure. Jess and Leslie, children from different places who find each other, and whose spell turns life into magic, discover tricks and triumph over their lost identities.

The families of both these young souls add each of their own elements, allowing us to see first and foremost the discomfort of Jess' upbringing to date, and the freedom and joy experienced by Leslie with her family. Both have so much to gain from each other's realities.

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Favourable: 3
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0

(US, 2007)

CAST: Josh Hutcherson, Annasophia Robb, Zooey Deschanel, Robert Patrick, Bailee Madison, Kate Butler, Devon Wood, Emma Fenton, Grace Brennigan, Latham Gaines, Judy McIntosh, Lauren Clinton

PRODUCER: Lauren Levine, Hal Lieberman, David Paterson

DIRECTOR: Gabor Csupo

SCRIPT: Jeff Stockwell, David Paterson (book by Katherine Paterson)


EDITOR: John Gilbert

MUSIC: Aaron Zigman


RUNNING TIME: 95 minutes



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