Bridge to Terabithia Review
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Katherine Patersonís Newbery Medal-winning book, Bridge to Terabithia, lingers in my mind as being the first tragedy I read as a child. While the storyís details faded with time, the tear-jerking ending made enough of an impression that the book stuck with me.

Bridge to Terabithia tells of the unlikely friendship between Jesse Aarons (Josh Hutcherson) and Leslie Burke (AnnaSophia Robb). Jesse dislikes the new girl in his class almost immediately. Her funky clothes and active imagination attract scrutiny from his classmates, but Jesse has a problem with her because she beat him at a raceóand boys canít allow girls to be better than them.

Jesseís family struggles to get by, meaning that when his taped-up running shoes can no longer stay together, he gets a hand-me-down pair of his sisterís pink sneakers as replacements. Itís how his family survives, but such fashion disasters make him a bully magnet.

Jesse warms up to Leslie when he notices her fearlessness in facing bullies. Something of an outcast herself, Leslie makes a concerted effort to become friends with the boy next door. She admires Jesseís drawings, and the two discover that they share a creative spirit. They develop a magical world of their own, dubbed Terabithia, in a section of the forest thatís reachable only by using a rope to swing over the creek. There, Jesse and Leslie are free to indulge their fantasies in a place where they are the invulnerable rulers who fight off monsters.

Unlike many films aimed at children, Bridge to Terabithia has a grungy feel to match its heavier themes. The screenplay, adapted by Jeff Stockwell and the novelistís son, David Paterson, addresses financial hardship and the cruelty of kids in a manner thatís startling for anything coming out of Hollywood, let alone a movie for younger viewers.

While itís admirable that Bridge to Terabithia isnít sugarcoated, more often than not it plays as miserabilism for kids. Jesse gets remote racecars and a track for his birthday. When the toy doesnít work to perfection, his father (Robert Patrick) explodes with anger because he couldnít afford something better. Itís an honest moment, but this and plenty more like it become oppressive, especially since the friendship scenes donít balance the weightier subject matter.

Thematically, Bridge to Terabithia bites off more than it can chew. The movie has already been undone by too many big, under-explored matters when a discussion about God and religion is shoehorned into it. The pivotal third act event, the one part I remember from the book, doesnít flow naturally from the plot, and it feels like a cheat. (I donít recall whether this is a weakness in Patersonís novel, too.)

Bridge to Terabithia realistically presents childhood worries and smart main characters. That and its determination not to speak down to pre-adolescents are nice changes from kidsí movies that treasure stupidity. It can be too serious for its own good, though. In failing to decide between being a coming-of-age tale or a fantasy film, it hits some sour notes that confirm the perception that those with the brains are drags.

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