I watched “The Bridge to Terabithia” on a whim with my wife and daughter with little foreknowledge of the plot. I’d never read the Newbery Award-winning book by Katherine Paterson, and I’d seen only one trailer for the film, which left me with the impression it would be a Narnia knock-off. It’s not.
I’m not dissing “The Chronicles of Narnia,” which in its way was a remarkable film. But “Terabithia” didn’t deserve the CGI-laden marketing campaign it received; far from a fantasy blockbuster, this is a deep and thoughtful movie that places substance over sparkle — a rare treat in the sprawling field of youth-oriented theater. It ranks up there with one of my favorites, “The Secret of Roan Inish,” which accomplished more with no special effects than most family-friendly movies could with a billion-dollar budget.
But I just can’t shake “Terabithia” from my head, a fact owed mostly to the performance of AnnaSophia Robb. As Leslie, a spirited young girl with a fiery imagination and endless good cheer, AnnaSophia captured my heart. She’s the kind of person you want to know when you’re a child and, as my wife remarked midway through the film, she’s the sort of young woman you’d be happy to see your daughter grow up to be.
An outsider despite her youthful good looks and family wealth, she finds her perfect match in Jesse (Joss Hutcherson), another outsider who has withdrawn into his art to escape a chilly home life and his own problems at school. Together, they discover a secret getaway that might seem like a fairly ordinary patch of woods to most people; to them, it’s a magical world replete with fantastic creatures, hidden dangers and amazing triumphs.