Bridge to Terabithia

Posted on February 3, 2007 at 3:34 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for thematic elements including bullying, some peril and mild language.
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Sad death, references to child abuse, family tensions
Diversity Issues: Strong female characters
Date Released to Theaters: 2007
Date Released to DVD: 2007 ASIN: B000OYCM5I

Thirty years ago, a young mother named Katherine Paterson wrote a book to console her son David after his close friend was killed in an accident. That book went on to win the Newberry, children’s publishing’s highest honor, and to become a schoolroom classic for its vivid portrayal of the enchanted land of friendship and sensitive exploration of the range of emotions that accompany a wrenching loss. Now David Paterson has lovingly adapted the novel into a first-rate family film that does justice to the novel and its characters and themes.

Jesse Aarons (Josh Hutcherson of Zathura) feels isolated though he lives with his parents and three sisters. His family is struggling and no one seems to pay much attention to him except to bark at him about chores. He practices running because he wants to be the fastest kid in his class. And he draws pictures because there is something in him that loves to put the images that fill his eyes and heart on paper.

The first day of school there is a big race. A new student — a girl named Leslie (AnnaSophia Robb of Because of Winn-Dixie and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) — enters, and wins. She and Jesse become friends and together they imagine a magical land they call Terabithia. Jesse is happy. Together, their adventures teach them not just about imagination and exploration but about bullies, different kinds of families, growing up.

But Leslie must also teach Jesse the hardest lesson of all about growing up, the pain of loss.

One of the great strengths of the book is its perfect pitch in exploring Jesse’s thoughts and reactions, all presented in a matter-of-fact tone of understanding and acceptance. It is a very interior story, an enormous challenge for adaptation to film. The movie gently makes all of that work on screen through an understated screenplay and sensitive performances by its young actors. And Terabithia itself, only imagined on the page, is brought to life with imagination and heart. We only get glimpses, but they are tantalizing and witty, with glimmers that show us how even the most fantastical creations are grounded in our own thoughts and experiences.

Parents should know that the movie includes the very sad death of a child. There are also some family tensions, including money problems, and a reference to child abuse. The movie’s strengths include the portrayal of intelligent, kind, imaginative, and capable female characters and a rare Hollywood portrayal of sincere religious faith and the kinds of questions that concern children (and adults).

Families who see this movie should talk about what was most special about Leslie and why her friendship was so important to Jesse. They should also talk about what their own Terabithias would look like and draw some pictures. Why didn’t Jesse invite Leslie along on the trip with Miss Edmonds? Jesse had many different feelings about what happened to Leslie. What were some of them? Why is the title about the bridge?

Families who enjoy this film should read the book and some of the author’s other popular titles, including The Great Gilly Hopkins and The King’s Equal. They might also like to see the PBS version of the story. Other classic books that deal with sad losses include Roller Skates and The Yearling.

Other movies families will enjoy are The Secret Garden (all movie versions of this book are excellent, but my favorite is the BBC miniseries), The Wizard of Oz, and Alice in Wonderland.

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4 Replies to “Bridge to Terabithia”

  1. Movie Mom – You really missed the boat on this one, as did the marketing previews and the rating. This film was NOT appropriate for young children. It was promoted as a charming fantasy and given a youthful PG rating, but nobody really prepared you for being hit hard with a very cold, stark reality. OK, so we didn’t read the book first…probably wouldn’t have seen the movie if we had. My kids came out of this movie completely shell-shocked. The author’s catharsis may have done her some good, but my kids seriously did not appreciate it!

  2. I appreciate your comments very much — thanks for taking the time to write. I agree with you entirely that the film should have been marketed so that families knew what it was about. As you can see from my review, I made it very clear from the first paragraph that it involved the death of a child so that parents would have the information they needed to determine whether it was appropriate for their families. I believe if you had known what to expect you would have been able to see what a moving and, yes, uplifting film it is. As long as it does not come as a surprise, a movie like this can be a very good way to help children deal with fears and loss, just as stories from “Red Riding Hood” and “Goldilocks” up through “Where the Wild Things Are” and “Star Wars” do.

  3. I saw nothing uplifting about this film. I can see how they tried to shed some light at the end, but it was really too little too late.
    It reminded me very much of the director’s commentary on an alternate ending for the movie “Sweet Home Alabama” where they faked a death as a practical joke. He said they didn’t use it because scene was just too depressing and the happy ending didn’t bring us back to the surface, very much like what happend here. Some charming moments interspersed with some coming of age elements, but the child’s death was too shocking and not something the film made any sense of…just way too depressing overall.

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