(2007)4Perry SeibertDealing with subjects of life and death in a story aimed at kids befuddles many storytellers. The best aspect of Gabor Csupo's adaptation of the classic novel Bridge to Terabithia is the very personal, unique way the character responds to the profound events that affect him. Jess Aarons (Josh Hutcherson) is a shy boy, unable to express his frustrations with bullies, his father, and the fact that he's forced to wear hand-me-down sneakers from his sister. Only by drawing can he get these feelings out. That is until a new family moves in next door, and soon he has a friend for life in Leslie (AnnaSophia Robb), the daughter of authors who love her but let her spend a great deal of time alone. She can create a story with as much facility as Jess can draw, leading to their creation of Terabithia, a fantasy world where the pair symbolically confront the problems they face in the real world. Csupo manifests this fictional world in the most natural ways -- the magical creatures they create in their minds simply appear without any fanfare. These sequences become more and more ornate as the film progresses, but Csupo manages to keep them grounded in an uncomplicated psychological truth. By staying true to these characters' unique personalities, the audience can see them not as symbols but as real people with familiar problems.
When fate deals Jess a very painful life lesson in the film's third act, the filmmakers have gotten so far inside the character that the they don't have to overwhelm the viewer with any gaudy emotional excess. For a film that deals with powerful feelings of mourning and grief and guilt, the screenwriters and the director earn profound emotions without magnifying them into melodramatic excess. The viewers experience the pain and catharsis exactly as Jess does. It would be enough that Bridge to Terabithia never talks down to its preteen audience, but it turns out to be something much better because it doesn't talk down to the adults in the audience either.