So much for truth in advertising. When Disney released “Bridge to Terabithia” in theaters earlier this year, its marketing campaign made the flick look like a “Narnia”-styled fantasy.
The initiated knew better. Based on the 1977 young adult novel by Katherine Paterson, “Bridge to Terabithia” is only partially about fantasy. The story follows Jesse Aarons (Josh Hutcherson), a sensitive fifth-grader with the soul of an artist. Bullied at school, he finds a kindred spirit with the arrival of new student Leslie Burke (AnnaSophia Robb).
Like Jesse, she is alienated by the other kids. Unlike Jesse, she refuses to let it get her down. The two become fast friends and together discover secluded woods that they call Terabithia, with Leslie devising an entire mythology around it.
There is no sugarcoating of adolescence. The movie tackles weighty themes, but director Gabor Csupo and screenwriters Jeff Stockwell and David Paterson (son of the book’s author) treat the material with refreshing candor. It would have been easy for the flick to lapse into heavy-handedness, but “Bridge to Terabithia” stays true to the complexities of its characters. It helps that the filmmakers have assembled an excellent young cast, with Robb particularly memorable as the free-spirited Leslie.