The Bridge to Terabithia is yet another family movie by Walden Media which has been getting tremendously positive reviews. The movie is based on the very popular book by Katherine Patterson of the same name published in 1977 and winner of the Newbury Award in 1978, a book about young teens coming of age, and losing some of their innocence, not in the sexual sense, but in regard to things like their fantasy life and mortality. This is actually the second time this book was made into a movie (the first was in 1985). This version of the movie is very well done, and does not rely so heavily on C.G. to make it work, but nevertheless there are increasingly more special effects towards the end of the movie. The current incarnation of the movie runs well under two hours (1 hour and 38 minutes) and is even suitable for small children who do not necessarily have a long attention span. It is also not so intense that one would have concerns about young kids viewing it.
The story centers around the Aarons family, a blue collar family who live on a farm. The father works in a hardware story, his wife is at home, and they have four children-- one boy and three girls. The elder daughters in this movie have only bit parts, and the real heart of the story focuses on a special relationship which develops between Jesse Aarons and the new girl next door Leslie Burke. My one solitary complaint about this movie is that while Anna Sophia Robb who plays Leslie is pretty good, Dakota Fanning, if she is old enough (and her recent performance in "Charlotte's Web" suggests she is) would have been better. Josh Hutcherson who plays Jesse is very good indeed.
At the heart of the drama is the fantasy castle and indeed world that Josh and his friend Leslie create as their diversion from the vicissitudes of school with its usual run of bullies and blowhards and pests. But as a subplot we also have the relationship between Jesse and his little sister Maybelle developed as well. The elements of the story work well together, and one may be forgiven for thinking of Narnia during the scenes in the woods when the children are playing and fantasizing. A little tension is put into the story because Jesse's father wants his son to give up his childhood fantasy life and be 'more mature', more of a man, in his father's eyes. But then suddenly unexpectedly, and tragically Leslie dies in an accident and the rest of the movie has to do with coping with grief. I will not spoil the ending of the movie, but I will say that it very effectively portrays children's and adult's reactions to unexpected calamity.
Though it is not a major element in the film, there is a scene in the movie which involves church. The Aarons are a church going family, but Leslie's family is not and so Leslie goes to church with the Aarons one sudden. The service itself seems very antique-- with people dressed in 1930s attire and indeed everything in the church looks antique-- including the hymnals. This is odd since the film is not a period film. After the service the Jesse, Leslie and Maybelle talk about hell and Jesus. Leslie's view is that Jesus is too busy running a beautiful world to be damning people to hell. The Aaron children however insist that the Bible says some folks are going there, and that the Bible is surely true. It 's an interesting scene in an otherwise non-religious movie, but the conversation of the children is quite believably portrayed.
This is certainly a movie I would recommend for families, perhaps especially those looking for ways to cope with grief involving children. It reminded me so very much of my own first encounter with grief. I had a friend named Chris Williamson in High Point N.C. who played with me on a Y basketball team, the Eagles, who played for a championship in my eight grade year. Chris was a great person, very friendly, and very self-effacing. He had red hair and freckles and a big smile. He was tremendously likable. I looked forward to another year of basketball with him in the ninth grade. But somehow some way, he was in a terrible automobile accident and was suddenly taken from us. This shook me up for a pretty good while. Mortality, as a child, is something you think only happens to old people. This seemed so unfair, unreasonable, impenetrable, and just tragic.
Just when you are beginning to understand life and its mysteries, something odd and dark happens. This is why my grandmother used to say "you should keep short accounts with God". She was right about that. You never know when you will go to meet your Maker and you need to prepare yourself for that journey. I once asked my grandfather why he was such a straight arrow-- his answer was "hell is too hot and heaven too sweet to mess around in this life." He was right as well.
The Bridge to Terabithia is well worth seeing. It is moving and tender and joyful without being cheesy or maudlin (on the whole). Once again we owe a debt of thanks to Walden Media for trying to give us films that are family and Christian friendly. Such efforts should be supported.