Bridge to Terabithia is a children’s film with substance that has been masqueraded and advertised as a special effects fantasy movie. The “other world” aspects of this film are, in actuality, very small. The film’s main focus is the family and school life of the film’s two central characters: Jesse Aarons (Josh Huterson) and Leslie Burke (Anna Sophia Robb). Jesse is the son of a hardware store employee, Jesse Aarons Senior (Robert Patrick) while Leslie is the daughter of fiction novel writers, Bill Burke (Latham Gaines) and Judy Burke (Judy McIntosh). Jesse’s daily life consists of house chores, drawing, homework and bullies at school. The only thing Jesse has to look forward to is a big race which he loses to the new girl in school, Leslie. Though annoyed and taciturn, Jesse eventually becomes friends with Leslie, an act that fills friendship voids in both their lives. As this friendship develops throughout the first two acts of the film, each discovers in the other a creative kindred spirit.
One is a talented painter/drawer with no formal training and the other is a fledgling writer with a fervent imagination. It is Leslie’s imagination, not Jesse’s drawing skill; that begins their secret imaginary kingdom of Terabithia. Terabithia is a place where they are safe from the outside world, an empire they derive strength and courage from. They use the adventures they find themselves in and create within Terabithia’s borders as life lessons for the real world. If they can defeat grotesqueries in Terabithia, they soon realize they can face obstacles outside of its domain with the same vigor and determination.
It is when tragedy strikes in the real world of the Bridge to Terabithia’s third act that the gained fortitude is stressed and stretched, put to the ultimate test. An emotional and physical loss, the kind most children are fortunate enough never to have to deal with occurs. This is what sets Terabithia apart from many of the fantasy films that came out after the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Though advertised as one of these films, it is this part of Terabithia that elevates it past the likes of Eragon, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Dungeons & Dragons. This is the Bridge to Terabithia’s heart and soul and what makes the film relevant to every age category, no matter how skeptical they may be about “another fantasy film knock-off.” From this point on in the film, you feel for the characters, especially when they try to hide their emotions from others.
Gabor Csupo’s Bridge to Terabithia is film about how people, young and old, deal with adversity in their lives. It’s about loss and a small slice of the human condition as it pertains to fantasy and mortality. There are many disposable films in Terabithia’s genre, empty films that say nothing, effects films, dazzling, senseless films. Terabithia is not one of them. It transcends its genre because it says something pertinent to all of us when dealt a smashing blow: Nothing Crushes Us.