‘Terabithia’ bridges generation gap

Carly at the Movies column by Carl Larsen

The name of novelist Katherine Paterson may draw a blank from many of us adults, but her novels are among the favorites of America’s tween-age girls. The film adaptation of her beautiful and moving Bridge to Terabithia bridges that generation gap.

It is, in the very best sense, a family film – and is currently playing at the Colonial Mall Cinema in Staunton.

There are very few movies for young people that broach the subject of death, and fewer still deal with the resolution of grief among the living. “Bridge to Terabithia” is, by far, the best I’ve ever seen at handling this sensitive subject.

Seen through the eyes of a 10-year-old boy living in rural Virginia, it is a story of friendship and discovery as well as coping with the joys and sorrows we inevitably encounter as we grow. He is expertly portrayed by Josh Hutcherson, a busy young actor you may have seen recently in “RV” (2006) or “Zathura” (2005).

He also has to deal with problems like school bullies while keeping his passion (and talent) for drawing a secret, and as he enters the fifth grade he meets a new neighbor – a girl of imagination and daring. Both being a bit out of the ordinary, they are drawn together. In a nearby woods, they begin to construct an imaginary kingdom over which they rule nearly every day after school.

AnnaSophia Robb, star of “Because of Winn-Dixie” (2005), plays the girl, and from her entrance appears to be one of those born actresses whose charisma leaps from the screen straight into your heart. Strong words, I admit, but wait until you get a gander at this charming young performer.

Their real-world story meanders along. Problems with bullies abound. A little sister (played by bubbly Bailee Madison) who constantly wants to tag along. Even the financial woes of Josh’s dad (Robert Patrick) intrude in the growing wonder of the young friends’ CGI-tinged secret kingdom.

Just past the halfway mark, while you sit in the audience yearning to see more and more of magical Terabithia, the plot takes a sudden and shocking turn. And you learn, along with a talented and imaginative youngster, how to survive and cope with one of life’s darkest mysteries. And thanks to the creativity of the script (co-written by Katherine Paterson’s own son) we all come away with positive lessons well-learned.

Among the supporting cast, Zooey Deschanel shines as Josh’s favorite teacher, and Lauren Clinton is both vulnerable and intimidating as the Big Female School Bus Bully. Kudos, also, to director Gabor Csupo, for his first live-action film. Previously he has produced and/or written primarily for animated franchises such as “The Wild Thornberrys” and “Rugrats.” Here he’s turned out a film that is what those old Disney live-action family films would have been like – if they were really good.

I heartily recommend this movie for everyone aged 10 and up. It’s full of wonderful, new (to me, anyway) acting talent, and a sure-handed story that is delightful, action-packed and meaningful to all.

Meanwhile, Back at the Dixie:

My hero, Billy Bob (Bad Santa) Thornton blasts into town, part-farmer, part-astronaut, and as quirky as usual. “The Astronaut Farmer” is about an off-beat kinda guy who has a big old dream, and enough guts to defy convention to try realizing it. Thornton’s patented rough charm orbits this pull-for-the-outsider entry.

 

Carl Larsen is a regular contributor to The New Dominion. Look for his At the Movies column on Mondays.

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