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REEL CRITIC:'Terabithia' is excellent for all ages

February 21, 2007

"Bridge to Terabithia" is a spot-on adaptation of an excellent children's novel and a deeply powerful portrayal of love, loss and redemption through children's eyes and minds.

The original novel by Katherine Patterson is brought lovingly and faithfully to film, thanks in part to the screenwriting participation of her son, David, for whom the story was written 30 years ago.

Think it's only a kid's flick? Think again. The story artfully speaks to universal human topics — oppression, ostracism, escapism, shocking loss and the healing powers of love, all told with great simplicity, subtlety and grace.

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Many so-called "adult" films could take a page from "Bridge to Terabithia" and be substantially improved. I heard someone say, "It's Pan's Labyrinth for kids." I would add only that even though both films depict fantasy worlds born of young adolescents' excruciating realities, "Terabithia's" story is just as powerful without the gore, war and sadism.

Instead of leaving the narrative filled with loss and sadness, we are inspired at the end of this film, filled with admiration for the endless capacity of the human spirit to withstand serious blows and continue to expand in positive, loving ways.

The simple story relies heavily on imagination but remains grounded in a completely believable reality. The movie works so well because of the talent of the two young lead actors.

Josh Hutcherson plays Jesse Aarons, a boy of about 13 who has trouble finding his place in life. Leslie Burke, a girl filled with spark and imagination, is played by the luminous AnnaSophia Robb in a powerfully memorable performance.

The sad last act is a real surprise for several reasons. First, something happens that you really don't expect. Then, the final resolution of the tragedy isn't what you'd imagine. And, finally, the emotional impact is much stronger than I would have ever guessed. I cried buckets, and I'm guessing you will, too.

Even though Disney is marketing this movie as all "Lord of the Rings"- style special effects in a "Narnia"-level fantasy land, the computer-generated on-screen magic makes up only about 10% of the film. The rest is all story — real relationships, real problems, real growth and real solutions.

It parcels out the delightfully clever special effects, using them as an occasional seasoning to the scenes set in the real world. The results feel somehow more genuine than either "Rings" or "Narnia," bringing the characters' imaginations to life slowly and in to-scale fashion. It really feels like exactly what it depicts — the way children create worlds when they play. Detailed, elaborate constructions that can provide a safe fortress from the onslaught of adulthood, if only temporarily.

"Terabithia" is a good story, filled with realistic and positive messages. It is a quality family film that deserves a wide audience. Go with or without your kids. You'll all enjoy it.


  • MARLA MARTIN is a belly-dance artist and instructor in the Glendale area.

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