The Uses of Enchantment

Bridge to Terabithia

Josh Hutcherson, AnnaSophia Robb, and Zooey Deschanel
star a film written by Jeff Stockwell and David Paterson and
directed by Gabor Csupo.

Reviewed by D.J. Palladino

Consider the high-concept studio pitch: A child escapes from
traumatizing experiences into a rich fantasy world of monsters. The
child then defeats the monsters, simultaneously clearing up pesky
problems back home. Maybe it isn’t elegant, but it is 26 words and
furthermore describes The Wizard of Oz, The Chronicles of
Narnia, Pan’s Labyrinth
(without happy ending), and now this
very fine film based on Katherine Paterson’s 1978 Newberry-winning
novel. It’s magical realism for kids. All I need now is a fancy
German name like Kindertraumaphantasiegebilde to make me
famous for noticing it.

The only real surprise is that it took so long to make it
onscreen. And, despite the evidence of television and movie
previews, the movie hews very carefully to a book that most
20-year-olds in this country had to read in school but loved
anyway. The story of Jesse Aarons and Leslie Burke, great kids with
imperfect families, Bridge to Terabithia chronicles
friendship blooming in a private world painstakingly created across
a big creek in rural America. The genius of the novel, which is
mimicked here, is its avoidance of the novelist’s tricks and
gimmicks (the screenplay was written by the author’s son). When bad
times hit, they are sudden and unprepared for, and as witnesses we
want to run off to Terabithia as soon as possible, too.

Directed by Gabor Csupo, whose previous life was in animation
(The Simpsons, Rugrats), Terabithia is not
sparklingly ingenious, though it’s ultimately winning in its
earthbound aspects. Josh Hutcherson (Jesse) is a little stiff, but
AnnaSophia Robb as Leslie carries this young-adult tear-jerker to
the edge of probability and then, because this film demands a
little extra kindertraumaphantasiegebilde, convinces us of the
vital power of monster squirrels and trolls. All in all it’s the
kind of fantasy that wets every eye and will no doubt play well in
seventh-grade classrooms as long as there is reality worth escaping


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