A kids’ book comes to life

A kids’ book comes to life

If you’re one of the moviegoers who flocked to The Chronicles of Narnia to see Tilda Swinton’s ice queen performance and enjoyed the children’s fantasy adventure as well, you might be misled by the ads for Bridge to Terabithia.

Like Narnia, it’s a collaboration between Disney and its Christian partner Walden Media, but here the special effects splashed all over the trailer actually occupy less than five minutes of screen time.

Unlike Narnia’s fantasy world, physically located inside the wardrobe, Terabithia exists only in the minds of the two protagonists. Jess (Josh Hutcherson) and Leslie (AnnaSophia Robb) are two 10-year-olds living on neighbouring farms who first meet when Leslie soundly beats all the boys, including frontrunner Jess, in their school’s sprint race.

Neither of them fits in with fellow classmates and Leslie leads Jess away to a dark forest she’s discovered, reached by swinging across a creek on a rope. There they can escape reality – the hardships of Jess’s poverty-stricken farm life and the emotional neglect of Leslie’s absentmindedly self-absorbed writer parents – and create an imaginary world where they rule over a magical landscape, fighting off evil monsters with an army of woodland creatures.

If you haven’t read the popular Newbery Medal-winning novel the movie is based on, you won’t be prepared for the dramatic development in the second half – for a PG movie, it packs a powerful punch. It’s beautifully handled by an intelligent script that defies predictable stereotypes.

At the heart of Bridge to Terabithia is Josh Hutcherson’s subtly moving performance, and he’s well supported by a seasoned cast. AnnaSophia Robb has grown up nicely since her turn as the spoiled little blonde girl in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Jess’s troubled dad is played by Robert Patrick, unforgettable as the terrifying T-1000 in Terminator 2. And there’s another lovely performance by Zooey Deschanel (Almost Famous) as the intuitive music teacher with some surprising choices (Steve Earle, the Chi-Lites) for class singalongs.

Terabithia is a refreshing relief from all the blockbuster sequels around at the moment – fewer special effects, lots more heart.

Review by Brian Watson

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