It’s no wonder that the filmmakers of “Bridge to Terabithia” supposedly disavowed Disney’s ad campaign for the film.  In the commercials,
“Terabithia” looks like nothing more than a cheap “Narnia/Harry Potter” knock-off.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

“Bridge to Terabithia” takes places in the real world.  The ever so brief fantasy scenes only serve as a backdrop for the ever-inventive
minds of Jesse and Leslie.

As two junior high outcasts and neighbors, Jesse and the new girl Leslie find friendship by entering the forest and creating the world of
Terabithia.

To put it in perspective, the fantasy sequences take up little more than the time they were given in the trailer.  The bulk of the movie is a
coming of age drama.

Near the beginning of the film there is a bit too much reliance on clichéd school problems such as bullies.  And even though relatively brief,
not all of the fantasy scenes are necessary.

What the film does well early on and throughout is create and develop the two main characters.  Jesse is played by Josh Hutchinson and
Leslie by AnnaSophia Robb.  Both of these young actors are excellent.  They easily put three of the four “Narnia” kids to shame.  We really
come to love these characters.  For those of us who weren’t the popular kid, we can really relate to them and they feel very real.

Credit should also be given to writers Jeff Stockwell and David Paterson for staying true to the themes of Katherine Paterson’s novel and
creating intelligent characters that grow and learn from each other when most modern kid’s movies are a series of overplayed jokes.

But then again, it is questionable whether “Terabithia” is actually a movie for kids.  There is a lot of symbolism, especially in the fantasy
scenes, that younger kids will not pick up on.

But most importantly, there is an absolutely tragic event later in the film that I won’t spoil.  I’m not talking sad, but absolutely devastating.  It
hits hard, no matter what your age.  It would be too much for younger viewers.

Director Gabor Csupo, who is best known for the insipid “Rugrats,” deserves a lot of credit for not backing down.  Csupo does a really good
job throughout and slams it home with such a dramatic barrage that I considered scoring this movie even higher than I ultimately did.

The film also gets some great work from another unlikely source.  Relatively unknown composer Aaron Zigman does a fantastic job in easily
his best score to date.  The themes for Terabithia and the children are beautiful and add even more to the dramatic weight later on.

“Bridge to Terabithia” is a great film about growing up, friendship and loss.  I wish the whole of the film had been up to what it becomes, but
it is still highly recommended, even if you initially laughed it off as just “kid’s stuff” as Disney did.

* * *
(out of four)
BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA
Directed by: Gabor Csupo

Written by: Jeff Stockwell and David Paterson

Starring: Josh Hutcherson, AnnaSophia Robb, Zooey
Deschanel, Robert Patrick

Cinematography by: Michael Chapman

Music by: Aaron Zigman

Released: February 16, 2007; 95 Minutes