Based on the novel by Katherine Paterson, Bridge to Terabithia tells the story of outsider Jesse Aaron a young boy isolated from his family and at school by a shyness and remarkable artistic talent. The day a tomboy named Leslie shows up, Jess's life is changed as they forge a friendship that teaches him the most important life-lessons a boy can learn (or some adults for that matter) such as embracing your gifts and accepting loss.
Everything about this film is the top of its game, starting with script. David L. Paterson (the author's son, and the reason this story was created) and Jeff Stockwell deliver a modernised but faithful adaptation of the novel, with relatable, human characters placed in situations that all of us face throughout our lives. Unlike the bulk of children's films, Terabithia makes its points/lessons with subtlety, believable situations, and avoids the usual over-sweet, condescending, saccharine fodder that has become the unfortunate staple of a Disney kid's flick.
Performances from all the cast are exceptional, thoughtful, and a benchmark to be held for future attempts at this type of story. Josh Hutcherson and AnnaSophia Robb, as Jess and Leslie respectively, are a joy to watch; little Bailee Madison turns in an amazing performance as May Belle, and at her whole seven years of age is a perfect tutor for how to be sweet without being sickly; Robert Patrick delivers his blue-collar everyman persona with the same panache that won him many fans as John Doggett in latter seasons of the X-files; and Zooey Deschanal (a life long fan of the novel) brings a beauty and lightness that contrasts the seriousness observed by Jesse in most adults. All the cast are well cast, and only add layer upon beautiful layer to the film.
Director Gabor Csupo, coming from an animation background, (Rugrats, Simpsons) transcends into live-action with inventive camera angles, framing and timing that shows a real instinct for eliciting emotion, and an equal proficiency in special effect laden and character-driven scenes.
Special effects, from Weta Workshop (Lord of the Rings, Chronicles of Narnia), are unsurprisingly spectacular, as always. It should be noted, though - despite the marketing push - this is not a special effects movie, and these moments are sparse throughout the picture.
It seems a rare occurrence when a film of this quality arrives on the silver screen these days, even less likely when its directed at children (who, for some reason, most filmmakers think are stupid by the crap they are trying to peddle on them in mass). Nevertheless, Bridge to Terabithia defies the low quality arena it belongs to (as well as its ad campaign), and just like the book it was adapted from, is a beautiful, magical story that expresses important themes in an honest way - a great film for both kids and adults alike.
Special features include an anecdote filled commentary with director Katja von Garnier, and actor Oliver Martinez, and a large collection of deleted scenes.
Screen formats: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1 presentation
Subtitles: French; Spanish
Language and Sound: Dolby 5.1 English, French, Spanish
Other Features: Color; interactive menus; scene access.
* Commentary -
o Two feature -length audio commentaries
+ With director Csupo, screenwriter Jeff Stockwell and producer Hal Lieberman.
+ With Hutcherson, Robb and producer Lauren Levine.
o Backstage Disney - Behind the Book: The Themes of Bridge to Terabithia (14:27)
o Digital Animation: Bringing Terabithia to Life (05:56)
* Music Video
o Keep Your Mind Wide Open by AnnaSophia Robb
Number of discs: - 1 with Keepcase Packaging
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