Monday, August 27, 2007

Bridge To Terabithia

The Verdict: A smart, bittersweet little gem of a movie pitched at the perfect level for growing kids and embittered adults alike.

The Rating: 8/10

Despite what the mainstream media might have us believe, not all kids these days are smoking ecstasy pipes while happy-slapping their delinquent friends on YouTube. I'm not talking about very young kids here, those still at the age where copious tears are shed with monotonous regularity ("I scratched my knee", "It's dark and I'm afraid", "There's alligators in the toilet") Hmmm, maybe just me on that last one then... No, I'm talking about the age when your folks get fed up to the back teeth with all this whinging, and start mentioning those terrible words: 'grow up'! That's when independence is forged, and things start getting all too real for kids who shouldn't be behaving like babies any more...

Ah yes, tween angst, that heinous, hormonally unbalanced beast, it's something Disney have been successfully tapping into for years. With 'Bridge to Terabithia', however, they've somehow managed to package it into a subtle, beautifully filmed movie that will surprise most with it's deceptively simple depth and quality.

The story deals with young Jesse, at a twelvish age and feeling a bit left out at school, the poor wee sod. He's interested in running and drawing, but from meagre means, so unable to afford decent trainers or paints. He's the fastest kid in school of his age, but thanks to the bullies, a bit of a loner. However, when Leslie, a quirky new girl starts at his school, and moves in next door to him, they quickly make friends and begin exploring in the forest behind their houses.

It sounds so simple, and it is, but the relationship between the two kids is extremely well written and developed. Both are excluded at school, and through this they bond, finding the means to tackle the bullies and bad kids. Their imaginations, Leslie's in particular, are their escape, and they conspire to imagine a world of their own in the forest, where they make the rules and are in charge.

It's not all happy exploring though. The theme of death is first introduced so subtly, that when it recurs, it is very very shocking indeed. Jess's father (the T-1000 himself, Robert Patrick) keeps a greenhouse, and sells the veg they grow there to supplement his already stretched income. However, he has to lay a trap in the greenhouse for an invading rodent who continually breaks in, and tells the young lad that he'll 'deal with' the intruder when he catches him. When the sound of the trap being sprung wakes Jess early one morning, he sneaks down to the greenhouse and releases the creature, for fear of what was about to happen to it. The scene where the mean dad berates the kid and tells him to 'get his head out of the clouds' is a revealing one, especially considering what comes later in the movie.

I don't want to spoil this movie, but as it's essentially a kids' film that adults can watch, it is important to tell you that it is probably going to be about as harrowing to a kid as, say, Bambi was to you when you first watched it. It's important to remember that most people who watched that movie as kids, never forget it.

In this movie, the themes of death, growing up, and the power of a child-like imagination are all delicately and subtly explored in this movie in a mature and considered manner, but pitched at a level that kids will 'get'.

The two leads are great, and although they are a little 'Disney Club' at times, they are frighteningly capable, the young lad in particular having to deal with some tough material. His music teacher, played by a doe-eyed Zooey Deschanel, also has a nicely understated supporting turn, the script is great, and although there are a few cheesy Disney moments thrown in here, they are acceptably brief, and sort of make sense when they do happen. The man in charge, Gabor Csupo (the real life Dr. Nick Riviera from The Simpsons!) directs with a steady hand, never over-using the unusual special effects, and literally letting the kids do the talking.

No question about it though folks, if you have kids, this movie will make them cry! However, I recommend it as it thoroughly surprised me with its intelligence, subtlety and respect for the ability of its target audience to handle the drama that's unfolding on screen in front of them. Plenty in here for adults as well though, and it may be unfair to compare it to a movie as good as 'Pans Labyrinth', but Terabithia is perhaps a less grown-up version of a similarly themed story, and has many of the same qualities that made Pans Labyrinth so watchable.

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