Screenwriters: Jeff Stockwell, Kevin Wade, David Paterson
Starring:Josh Hutcherson, Annasophia Robb, Robert Patrick, Kate Butler, Zooey Deschanel, Lauren Clinton
Running time: 95 minutes
If the makers of Ronseal decide to take their children to see Bridge To Terabithia - well, everyone loves the movies, don’t they? - they’ll storm out in a fit of self-righteousness within half an hour. Why? Because this film is the very opposite of their scrupulous wood preservative: it spends most of its running time trying not to do what it says on the tin. But, you know what, it’s all the better for it.
Jess (Hutcherson) is an attention-starved ten-year-old misfit. His schoolmates treat him as though he gets dipped in a cesspit before registration each morning and his parents (Patrick, Butler) are too busy trying to make ends meet to notice that he’s a talented artist. His life is changed when he is befriended by the pretty, slightly eccentric girl (Robb) who moves in next door. Together they ransack their imaginations to create their own private magic kingdom – the titular Teribithia - in which they rule as King and Queen.
Bridge To Terabithia is billed as fantasy adventure from the whizzkids who brought us The Chronicles of Narnia, but its use of CGI technology is much more restrained than its marketing campaign suggests. For most of the film, 3D computer animation is used to punctuate and illustrate the narrative, rather than to drive it forward. When the full impact of the CGI technology is finally unleashed in the film's closing chapter, the effect is truly wondrous, but we can't help but feel a little short-changed. However, to his credit, director Csupo isn't afraid to add a dash of wit to his state-of-the-art special effects: Teribithia's demonic troll turns out to be a supersized, grotesque version of the school bully.
Bridge To Terabithia’s scope is surprisingly broad for a family film: it deals with identity, family, the nature of courage, the difficulty of being an outsider and even God. But its main thrust is friendship. The burgeoning bond between the brooding, emotionally stunted Jess and the insightful, gleefully odd Lesley – who comes on like a pre-pubescent Diane Keaton right down to her array of taste-slaughtering head gear – is handled beautifully. Hutcherson is engaging as the film’s emerging hero and Robb’s magnetic performance should have Dakota Fanning quaking in her sneakers. The film’s tragic twist might be a little upsetting for younger cinema-goers, but its aftermath teases our tearducts as adroitly as Terms of Endearment. Children’s films which don’t feature ill-fated white-tailed deer are rarely this affecting.