Released in 2007, only twelve years ago, Bridge to Terabithia is, in my opinion, a seminal children’s film that kids should definitely watch at some point in their lives. While the title and some of the story focuses on an imaginary fantasy land, there are very real themes of friendship, family, compassion and grief at play in the movie. Young people also learn quite directly that the real world is not always a happy place – it can be cruel and unfair, hence why the imaginary land of Terabithia is thought into existence.
Although Bridge to Terabithia is under the Walt Disney Pictures banner, it is in fact much more poignant than a first-time viewer might give it credit for. This adaptation may be just over a decade old however the source material – Katherine Paterson’s novel of the same name – was released three decades earlier in 1977.
As the title alludes to, I recently watched Bridge to Terabithia for the first time as someone over the age of eighteen. It had been a very long time since my last viewing and the whole experience took me back into what it was like to be younger and carefree, in the age range of the lead characters.
As with any beloved story, endearing and memorable characters are a key reason for Bridge to Terabithia’s long-standing success and place in the hearts of millions. Josh Hutcherson and AnnaSophia Robb played their respective roles – Jess and Leslie, amazingly well especially considering how young they were during filming.
Not only does their on-screen friendship feel real and authentic, both Hutcherson and Robb truly embodied their characters in such a way that despite many years having passed since I first saw the film, I never forgot Jess, Leslie and what they went through together. I was genuinely moved by the story depicted on screen and the film means a lot to me, for that reason.
Looking into the film as an adult also offers a much different perspective to when I was younger and less knowledgeable about the world. For example, issues such as the financial issues in Jess’ family, the shock that Leslie does not believe in God and the fact that the bullies (especially Lauren Clinton’s Janice Avery) are much more complex human beings than they initially appear.
I always liked May Belle as a character and being an older sibling myself, I can relate to Jess’ annoyance at times of her trying to tag along. While many aspects of the story are timeless, it is in fact May Belle that reminds me exactly how much time has passed since Bridge to Terabithia was made — I have seen Bailee Madison in many other projects and she has obviously grown up. In fact, after my recent viewing, I went on to Instagram and one of the first pictures I saw was Madison celebrating her twentieth birthday. Time flies!
I also appreciate Robert Patrick’s performance and what he brought to the film much more now than I did when Bridge to Terabithia was first released. As a parent in a Disney film, it is easy to simply regard him as the obligatory adult presence in the child character’s life. However, as I have said, now having more understanding of different perspectives helps me see Jack Aarons as a hard-working man trying to provide for his family.
Of course, Leslie’s ultimate and tragic fate near the end of the story is a source of great sadness for many people. Some have questioned why her death was necessary and have even made comments about the author, Katherine Paterson, for killing their favourite character.
Due to Leslie being based on a real-life friend – Lisa Hill – of Paterson’s son, her death was never in question. This is what makes AnnaSophia Robb’s performance even more impressive — she had to make Leslie memorable, lovable and leave enough of an impression on the audience so what happened would be deeply felt. Leslie was a young, intelligent, vibrant girl with her whole life ahead of her. Again, being only twelve at the time and having all of that to factor in and think about is truly remarkable.
Josh Hutcherson also showed the beginnings of acting chops that would grow even further over the next decade. His performance as Jess in the latter stages of the film is some of his best work, in my opinion though I consistently enjoyed the character throughout Bridge to Terabithia.
Anyway, those are my thoughts and musings which I hope you enjoyed reading. I had forgotten how much Bridge to Terabithia impacted me and how it had helped me learn about the harshness in reality, until this recent viewing.
I feel like most people in my generation saw this film at some point and now, the kids of 2019, watching it can learn the same lessons we did back in the day. Some stories just cannot be forgotten.