Based on a children's fantasy story written by Katherine Paterson, and produced by the same company that did the latest Chronicles of Narnia, I thought that the movie would probably be mediocre given my lukewarm response to films of similar genre like Pan's Labyrinth and The Last Mimzy. And how wrong was I. Bridge of Terabithia trumps over all the movies mentioned, basically because it had a good story to tell, and stuck to telling that story instead of being distracted by the bells and whistles of special effects.
It tells the story of a budding friendship struck between two kids, both lonely souls who found each other by virtue of being in the same class, and neighbours. Jesse Aarons (Josh Hutcherson, last seen in RV) is the lone boy in a family of girls, and finds that his simply living in a world of his own, getting no attention from his parents or siblings. He finds solace in his drawings, while being target practice for the bullies in school. Newcomer to the neighbourhood Leslie Burke (AnnaSophia Robb, last seen in The Reaping) shares the same loneliness, being new to town, and neglected by her parents when they go into their creative writing zone.
Tarabithia becomes the fantasy world the friends find themselves in, a forested area off their residence. There, they become who they want to be, and through their imaginative world, become fast playmates, and firm friends. And with new found confidence and strength, they become more nimble in navigating through the school's playground politics. Needless to say, despite their age, you'll be wondering if like Mukhsin, the friendship between the two will develop into something deeper, with all the feel good moments around.
What I liked about it is its positivity in the themes explored, despite a dark moment. It's about hope, love, the power of imagination when you open your mind and make believe. It has adult themes, and somewhat gives a feel like Pan's Labyrinth, minus the dark moody overtones. I can't help but guffaw at the discussion of religion too. For the most parts it has a breezy pace, until it sledgehammers certain emotions that will definitely bring on a tear or two from those who are soft hearted.
The leads too do a commendable job, and their chemistry just perfect. They fed off each other's enthusiasm well, and made Terabithia believable. The special effects didn't go over the top, or turned on unnecessarily, as they are quite small scale compared to the arsenal employed for other fantasy movies, therefore not stealing the thunder, or distract the audience from the story. Reigned in properly, the effects are just effects, and not the main deal.
The last act indeed takes the cake, and you'll more often than not feel for the characters, and wonder about selfishness. Unless you don't have a heart, you'll definitely feel sorry, and understand the blame inflicted. With supporting casts like Robert Patrick and Zooey Deschanel (Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) who also lent her voice as the singing schoolteacher, don't miss Bridge to Terabithia! Oh, and bring a date along too!