I first saw Bridge to Terabithia in 2008, a little over a year after it had released in theaters. It was on a movie channel, Starz I believe. I had never read the book, but I remembered the trailer for it and was excited to see it. I was expecting a fantasy Narnia style film, so I definitely got more than I bargained for. If you’ve seen this film, and I really hope you have (if not, please do), then you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, spoilers later on.
Josh Hutcherson stars as Jesse Aarons, a fifth grader who is gifted at drawing, has no friends, and has to put up with bullies in his school. It doesn’t help that he comes from a family that is struggling financially, and that he’s the only son of his parents five children. His dad, Robert Patrick, doesn’t spend a lot of time with him and is hard on him, but obviously loves his son and is trying his best to provide for the large family.
The only person who wants to be around Jess is his young sister, May Belle (Bailee Madison). Naturally, Jess isn’t overly fond of having his younger sister constantly around.
Things look up for Jess once Leslie Burke (AnnaSophie Robb) moves to town and joins his fifth grade class. She’s a unique individual, quirky if you will. On her first day, Leslie beats Jess and other boys in her class in a race during recess and offers to shake Jesse’s hand, but he walks away. At this point, she had already been bullied herself by the resident school bully, Janice Avery (Lauren Clinton), and is clearly having trouble making friends despite being an obviously awesome person.
Leslie, the daughter of two fiction writers, is a gifted story teller. Jess begins to warm up to her after being captivated by an essay she made up on scuba diving, seeing her be bullied, and finally after she compliments his drawing. Why it took him so long, I have no clue; he should have been making friends with her on day one.
Once the two become best friends, they head out into the woods to find something to do. That something is initially a race through the woods, and then swinging across a creek on an old rope. It doesn’t take long for Leslie’s storytelling and imagination to open up the world of Terabithia. Jesse, despite some hesitance, gets sucked into this roleplaying imaginative fantasy. Together, they become the King and Queen of Terabithia, fighting off mystical creatures and having quite the adventure after school.
As we learn later, Leslie had never been good at making friends, and in fact Jess is the best friend she has ever had. This is fairly obvious as she wants to spend time with her new friend, even volunteering to go to church with him and his family. She also could never wait to return with Jess to Terabithia.
Now for the spoilers.
Like a lot of young guys, Jess has a bit of a crush on a teacher of his. In his case, it’s his music teacher Ms. Edmunds (Zooey Deschanel). She had seen his drawing and complimented him on them, which of course made Jess happy. One Saturday, May Belle wakes Jess up by bringing him the phone and telling him “it’s your girlfriend.” Jess assumes its Leslie calling, but is surprised to find out that it’s actually Ms. Edmunds calling. She wants to take Jess on a field trip with her to a museum. Jess, happy, goes to his sleeping mother and asks if he can go. She’s half asleep and mumbling, so he had all the permission he needed.
Together, Ms. Edmunds and Jess begin to leave when she notices him looking at a house (Leslie’s house). Edmunds asks if he forgot something, to which he thinks for a second and says no and off the two go to explore the museum. For Jess, this is a great day. It’s his first time in a museum, he’s getting to see a lot of cool art, and it’s some alone time with the beautiful teacher he’s crushing on. Upon returning home, Jess tells her “we should do this again sometime.”
Once back in his home though, the film takes a drastic turn. Jess is welcomed by a family that is worried sick. They wanted to know where he was at, and they thought he was dead. Jess is confused and doesn’t understand why they would think that, after all he had told his mother where he was going. It’s then that his father tells him that his Leslie is dead; their swinging rope broke and she had drowned in the creek.
Jess is devastated and doesn’t believe it, as you could imagine, and storms off. The rest of movie sees Jess coming to gripes with Leslie’s death, overcoming his bully, and ultimately keeping Terabithia alive with the help of his sister May Belle who he finally brings to the imaginative kingdom and makes her the princess. He also gets closer with his father.
I watched this film last night, for probably the fifth or sixth time (my first time watching it on the Blu-ray that I’ve had for a while). I’m a 28-year-old male (I was 22 the first time I saw it), and I’m not the slightest bit ashamed to say that this movie gets me every time. Tears get shed everytime, and I don’t care. I’m not a stone, and this film is touching and depressingly sad at the same time.
The initial shock I had when I first saw it is something I seldom have with a plot twist in a movie. Keeping in mind that I had never read the book, wasn’t familiar with it, and the only thing I knew about the movie going into my first watching of it was the trailer and that my favorite actress (and only real celebrity crush, Zooey Deschanel) was in it. Zooey was enough to make me want to see the movie.
I expected a Narnia style fantasy adventure where the kids cross some bridge and end up in a magical place, fighting off weird creatures, probably saving the kingdom before finding their way back home. What I got was something drastically different, and infinitely better because of it.
For over half of this movie, I find it hard not to have a smile on my face. As soon as AnnaSophia enters the picture it’s almost impossible not to. She shines in every single scene she is in throughout this movie. Leslie is such a wonderful character. She’s a girl who isn’t afraid to be different, doesn’t really care what others think, and has a great imagination and open mind. She is a care free person full of life who, while she may not have had friends or parents who spent a great amount of time with her while they were writing their books, is able to make her own worlds and create her own fun.
She’s a friendly, caring person who eventually even makes friends with Janice. She’s also incredibly smart and open minded. Her parents aren’t religious and haven’t raised her to be, where Jess’s parents are religious and have raised him to be so. When she goes to church with Jess and his family, she is able to see “that whole Jesus thing” as “interesting.” May Belle counters that it isn’t interesting, it’s “scary.” To this, Leslie has the great line of “you have to believe it, and you hate it. I don’t have to believe it, and I think it’s beautiful.” May Belle informs Leslie that she has to believe, otherwise God will damn her to Hell when she dies. Leslie disagrees. I know some who don’t like this scene and think its a shot at Christianity, but as a Christian with different views on Hell than most of my fellow believers, I really enjoyed the scene and side with Leslie. To those who have a problem with religion, or think this scene would be offensive, it’s only about 30 seconds and after which religion doesn’t come up again until the end where Jess asks his dad if Leslie was in Hell, and dad doesn’t believe she is and neither would I.
Jess feel responsible for her death, and he almost kinda should though not really. You can tell while he was in the car with Ms. Edmunds and was looking at Leslie’s house that he was thinking about her. He knew seeing the museum was something she would definitely liked to have done and would have probably jumped at the opportunity to do so. He just didn’t want her coming because of fantasy crush on the teacher; he wanted to spend time one-one-one with Ms. Edmunds.
It’s not like he could have known that while he was out having his “perfect day,” that his best friend was dying trying to make it across the creek to their special place of Terabithia. Had he been there, she probably wouldn’t have drowned. Had he invited her along, which he knew their teacher wouldn’t have a problem with, she definitely wouldn’t have drowned. That’s the kind of guilt that could definitely eat away at person, even though it really is misplaced. Stuff happens, and he didn’t really do anything wrong.
It’s not often that you see an actual wholesome movie, especially from Disney, but Bridge to Terabithia really is a wholesome movie that is safe viewing for people of all ages. It’s a surprisingly deep film that touched on powerful issues convincingly through the eyes of children. Both Josh Hutcherson and AnnaSophia Robb gave excellent performances and had an on-screen chemistry that really helped to bring these characters to life to where you’d actually care about them.
It’s a clean movie about the power of imagination, the importance of keeping an open mind, love, and death. It is still extremely sad for the final twenty minutes or so, however long it is after Leslie dies I don’t really know because that spot of the film always just sucks the life right out of the film and sticks with you after the credits roll.
Bridge to Terabithia gets a four out of five: GREAT.