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BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA (article first published : 2007-04-28)

The trailer for this new film, a surprise delight, does not do it justice and might even put some off. And that would truly be a great shame because Bridge to Terabithia is the most memorable family film in many a month - and one of the most unexpectedly touching.

Judging from the trailer and poster, one might easily assume this to be a sort of Lord of the Rings or Chronicles of Narnia for little leaguers.

Fantasy elements are here, for sure, but they are incidental. It's reality, the everyday hurdles of life, that preoccupy in a gripping, credible and ultimately very moving tale revolving around the great power of imagination, the value of friendship, the search for love and acceptance, and the courage needed to deal with unexpected loss.

Directed by Gabor Csupo and based on a popular, award-winning book by Katherine Paterson, Bridge to Terabithia focuses on a bright young boy, Jesse (Josh Hutcherson, star of Zathura), who is the only son among four daughters in a financially struggling family.

Jesse is a quiet introvert, a boy constantly bullied, who feels somewhat alienated from his burdened father (Robert Patrick). He escapes from the greyness of his world by drawing colourful fantasy figures in a notebook.

Then he meets a new girl in town, who happens to be his neighbour and in his class at school, and they slowly hit it off, she considerably brightening up Jesse's life. She's the lovely, bubbly and caring Leslie (AnnaSophia Robb, seen in Because of Winn-Dixie), the tomboy daughter of writer parents, who coaxes Jesse out of his shell and, with him, regularly explores the woods surrounding their homes.

They dub this their secret realm, reached by swinging with a rope over a river. It's a place their fertile imaginations proclaim as a land called Terabithia, where they dress up an abandoned tree-house and conjure up adventures involving warrior dragonflies, giant trolls and winged nasties, often realised with computer-generated effects.

The darkness in Jesse's life starts to shimmer with new light - he warms more to his talkative younger sister, May-Belle (an adorable Bailee Madison) and starts a friendship with the young music teacher at his school, Ms Edmonds (Zooey Deschanel), who tries to nurture Jesse's artistic talent.

Then, suddenly, the film takes a dramatic, dark turn, before building to a satisfying finale that left many a damp cheek at a weekend matinee.

With fine performances all round, a strong and sensitive script, much adventure and lots of good life lessons to be learned, Bridge to Terabithia is a film that ranks as a must-see for all children and their parents. Rating: 8/10. - Billy Suter




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