What is it with novels aimed at 9-12 year olds? They are incredibly sad and often fixated on death. Old Yeller, The Giver, Charlotte’s Web, Where the Red Fern Grows… It’s like all the teachers in the world got together and decided, “Now would be a great time to depress our students.” In all seriousness, these books are classics because they touch on universal themes of loss and growing up. And let’s face it– growing up is hard. It’s probably for the best that books don’t try to sugarcoat this time of life.
Now I’m going to let you in on a secret: I have never read Bridge to Terabithia. If my sister is reading this, she probably has a shocked look on her face and is mouthing the words, “Sally’s never read Bridge to Terabithia!?” To which I respond, “Why would this surprise you? I only read The Giver for the first time like five years ago when you made me.” Anyway, I share this information to explain why I will not be comparing the movie to the book, as I normally would.
In a word, this movie is sad. It revolves around fifth grader Jess, an introverted artistic boy who is picked on by everyone in his class. This was actually the part that made me want to cry the most. I was similarly bullied when I was in elementary and middle school, so watching kids verbally abuse each other brought back memories that I had no idea were still with me. Mental scars, man. They just never fully go away.
Jess eventually makes friends with his new neighbor, eccentric tomboy Leslie. She’s quirky and confident, has cool writer parents, and a vivid imagination. She and Jess find an old rope swing over a river in the woods, and after swinging across dub the land “Terabithia” and crown themselves as rulers. Here is where the movies really shines. While the movie is mostly grounded in reality, in Terabithia special effects and CGI are used to visualize Leslie and Jess’ imaginary kingdom. The visuals are perfectly done– just enough to bring the kid’s imaginations to life but restrained so the audience doesn’t forget that the world isn’t real (outside their minds, anyway).
Another reason this is such a great sad movie are the leads. It’s rare to find really great child actors, and both Josh Hutcherson and AnnaSophia Robb are exceptional. Both have gone on to more grown up roles (The Hunger Games and The Way Way Back, respectively), but it’s clear even here that they are talented actors. A very young Bailee Madison, currently starring in the TV series Trophy Wife, also appears as Jess’ little sister. She is adorable! I just wanted to scoop her up and hug her the entire movie. Which given the sad ending, might have been nice.
I can’t believe this is a kids movie. It’s one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen. The first time I watched it, I started crying, and the second time I almost did. The only way I kept my manhood intact was by thinking about cars and making some loud comments about sport.
In saying that, this is a very well made film. It is about a young boy, Jess (The Hunger Games’ Josh Hutcherson), who befriends a new guy girl in town, Leslie (Anna Sophia Robb). He is picked on constantly by the other kids, but she and him quickly become friends and form a bond that is impervious to bullies. They use their imagination to escape to the far away land Terabithia. It’s this friendship that makes the film. Hutcherson and Robb have really great chemistry that you wouldn’t expect from two actors so young. You believe they could be best friends, which is what makes the ending that much more gut wrenching. I won’t go into spoilers here, but be prepared and have tissues handy.
When I first started watching this film, I thought it must’ve been dramatized. I couldn’t believe how mean these kids were to Jess and Leslie. Every chance they got to attack Jess, the two school bullies would take it. Whether it was tripping him up or a smart ass comment about his parents being poor, these two were constantly at him. I started remembering what my life in school was like and I don’t believe it was very far from the truth. Kids can be really mean, and still are today. Eventually most will learn that they can’t behave that way as it’s not socially acceptable, but when they’re kids they don’t have those social skills yet. I remember getting harassed constantly in high school, and not much better than what Jess and Leslie have to put up with. I’m glad I’m older now and people keep their bullying out of the public light, rather than constantly in my face.
This is a good film. It is sad, but it is the great performances of Hutcherson and Robb that make you feel connected to these characters. That’s why the ending is such a shock. For those of you that know what happens, you know why it’s shocking. For those that don’t, do yourself a favour and check this out. It is really worth seeing.