Note: I have not read the book and as such this review is solely on the movie alone and has
nothing to do with the book or the movie’s relationship to the book. But yes I am aware that this
movie was based on a book.
This is a very curious film. Generally speaking, not very unique, but certainly curious. The
burning question that will undoubtedly be in almost everybody’s mind who has seen this film (and
haven’t read the book perhaps) is: Are the fantasy sequences real, or not real, or somewhere in
between? Were they only in the imagination of the kids, or did their imagination allow them to
access a secret extraplaner world? Or, is it that their imagination created the world which made
it exist, relating the experience to the much-debated philosophical question of whether or not
we are just living in a world imagined by some child’s imagination or novel writer? The
trailer suggested that the kids were literally accessing a secret world. The hard question to
answer is: how much were the trailers deceiving us?
The biggest question, however, is are those other questions meant to have answers anyway? Or,
in other words, does it matter if the world was real or not?
That’s the area where this film makes you think. The characters certainly don’t. Most of them
are more or less off-the-shelf: the good-hearted and well-meaning protagonist - Jesse Aarons, played convincingly by Josh Hutcherson,
his tom boy girl friend/new kid in town - Leslie Burke, played by little cutie AnnaSophia Robb, the whiny little sister -May Belle
Aarons, the caring mother, the hardass father (Jesse’s father played by Mr. T-1000 Robert
Patrick), the school bullies, the quirky teacher, artsy fartsy liberal and enlightened parents...
even down to the faithful dog. On the bullies: they are not as ruthless or sadistic as bullies in
most movies, making them slightly more realistic than usual, which makes those parts a little
uncomfortable for anybody who was ever bullied in school . But I digress. The point is,
we’ve seen all of these characters before, but I guess that’s to be expected in a movie for
The main plot concerns Jesse, a boy with advanced artistic skills who is misunderstood - to put
it lightly - at school who meets the new kid in town: Leslie, a tomboy with just as much
imagination as the protagonist but apparently without the drawing skills. Her art appears to be in
writing. At one point I thought they would be a good children’s book tandem - she writes them and
he illustrates them - and I thought perhaps that’s where the story was headed (that turned out not
to be the case, disappointingly). Both appear to be around 10-12 but I don’t recall their actual
age being announced at any point.
Leslie shows the boy Terabithia, basically; the requirements to see it are finding a secret
place in the woods, swinging on a rope across a creek, and having a very active imagination.
Again, whether this place is actually supposed to be real or not, that’s up to you. The
fantastical characters are all representations of other characters in the story, mostly other
students at the school. The minions of the “Dark Master” - think of the flying monkies from the
Wizard of Oz and you’re almost there - resemble the bullies at school somewhat and say some of
the things the bullies like to say when they torment their victims. The giant troll turns out to
be representative of the big female bully at the school, Janice Avery, whom Leslie has to deal
with on a daily basis. But the troll turns out to be good after Janice softens up after a mostly
unremarkable plot twist where Leslie discovers the bully crying in a bathroom and consoles and
subsequently befriends her.
But anyway Jesse and Leslie spend a great deal of time in this magical land, escaping the pains
and doldrums of everyday school life, swinging across that creek after almost every school day.
They are the self-declared rulers of this world, the boy the king and the girl - well... guess.
It’s pure escapism, like the fantasy worlds a lot of children go to when they play, like worlds
we’ve all dabbled in at least a little bit when we were that age.
Real life interferes and intervenes, though, with Jesse having a crush on a hot teacher, Ms.
Edmonds (and trust me, he has good taste, as teach was played by the uber hot Zooey Deschanel,
sister of Emily Deschanel who plays Bones) and dealing with his sisters, in particular
his younger sibling who is always begging to go play with him and his friend. His older sisters, I
should mention, barely have any lines or screen time and aren’t much more than set pieces. There’s
a fun scene where Jesse paints a room with Leslie and her parents, the enlightened parents I
mentioned previously. And then later something Bad happens. I saw it coming. Well, I knew
something like that was going to happen. It’s just that type of story, A Separate
Peace-esque, if you will, that we’ve read before, which is why I figured some tragedy was
coming down the pike.
For fear of giving something away, this is where I will wind down this review. It ends
typically, with life lessons learned, tears wiped away, etc. And Jesse’s little sister does get to
see Terabithia after her brother builds a bridge to it (hence the title) after displaying some
carpentry skills that I doubt most 30-year-olds have. The bottom line: kids will like it, maybe
even love it, and adults I think will find some of it interesting and not much too terribly much
having to watch it with their children. Grading on a curve, mind you, I give it three out of five