Special effects take a backseat to characterization and strong perfs from tyro thesps

Bridge to Terabithia

on February 16, 2007 by Wade Major
This big-screen adaptation of Katherine Paterson's award-winning 1977 children's book (preceded by a serviceable 1985 television movie) isn't likely to displace anyone's memory of the popular tome, but its winning cast and generally faithful script are more than earnest enough to capture the powerful and bittersweet spirit that has, for decades, continued to make the story a favorite of children and adults alike.

Following their monumentally successful teaming on The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Walden Media and Walt Disney Pictures went looking for comparably revered subject matter with which to forge a follow-up. Bridge to Terabithia is unquestionably comparably revered, but it's hardly the same class of story, an intimate and oftentimes challenging story of outcast rural teenagers Jesse and Leslie (Josh Hutcherson and AnnaSophia Robb) who find refuge from the pain of reality in the creation of an elaborate imaginary world in the woods.

Contrary to the film's elaborate ad campaign, which suggests a fully realized CGI re-creation of the world of Terabithia, the movie contains surprisingly little CGI, instead focusing on the kids, their unique bond and the powerful life lessons that come as a result of their adventures. Director Gabor Csupo, cofounder of famed Rugrats animation house Klasky-Csupo, makes an auspicious feature directorial debut here, careful to avoid any stylistic indulgences that might undercut character or theme.

One can imagine, however, that the reigns from the Paterson estate were fairly rigid as Paterson's son David, whose own childhood experiences inspired the original book, is credited as both a producer and co-screenwriter along with Jeff Stockwell (2002's The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys ). Still, it's hard to imagine that Paterson herself could have imagined two more suitable stars than Hutcherson and the absolutely dazzling Robb, two immensely talented performers who capture the essence of teenage angst and joy so completely that the film's handful of minor shortcomings almost seem to evaporate.

Robert Patrick and Zooey Deschanel topline the fine supporting cast, while solid scoring and cinematography by Aaron Zigman and Michael Chapman, respectively, anchor the technical contributions. Distributor: Buena Vista
Cast: Josh Hutcherson, AnnaSophia Robb, Robert Patrick and Zooey Deschanel
Director: Gabor Csupo
Screenwriters: Jeff Stockwell and David Paterson
Producers: Hal Lieberman, Lauren Levine and David Paterson
Genre: Fantasy adventure
Rating: PG for thematic elements including bullying, some peril and mild language
Running time:
Release date: February 16, 2007

Tags: Josh Hutcherson, AnnaSophia Robb, Robert Patrick, Zooey Deschanel, Gabor Csupo, Jeff Stockwell, David Paterson, Hal Lieberman, Lauren Levine, Fantasy adventure, shortcomings, peril, bittersweet, challenging

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