If you've seen the advertisements and promos you'd think Bridge to Terabithia is about a "Lord of the Rings"/"Narnia"-style fantasy world. Nothing could be further from the truth. The movie, based on the 1977 Newbery Medal- winning novel by Katherine Paterson, is actually a heart-breaking and beautiful story about loneliness, loss, and the transformative power of imagination.
On the one hand, we have Jess -- a boy from a hardworking but poor family with four sisters who feels neglected because nobody has time for him. And on the other, we have his new neighbor Leslie Burke -- a rich kid whose parents are too busy working on their novels to have a whole lot of time for her. The two kids face-off against bullies at school - including the evil Janice, an 8th grade terror so bad she demands a dollar to use the school restroom. In the woods behind their home, they create Terabithia -- a fantasy world where Jess and Leslie are the King and Queen, pinecones become grenades, a dog becomes a Troll tracker, and squirrels become armored fur balls.
Parents take note: Terabithia features some nasty bullies and scary monsters. The concept of Terabithia being an imaginary world designed to give these powerless children some power in their lives will sail over the heads of younger viewers. That's not so bad in itself, but understanding it is crucial to appreciating the marvelous and bittersweet, but also tragic, ending. Make sure your kids are mature enough to handle a pretty emotional film, and then bring lots of tissues.
This is an amazing movie -- sure to stick with viewers for years to come. The direction, script, pacing, and especially the performances are all superb. Everything is handled brilliantly and with taste -- from the reason why Janice the bully is so mean to the love both sets of parents have for their kids -- despite the fact that life's problems and hurdles leave little time for bonding. Bridge to Terabithia is an incredibly touching movie and an instant classic.