I’m not sure exactly what I expected going into this film, but whatever it was, the film I saw could not have been farther from it. What Bridge to Terabithia is, is a little hard to explain. It’s certainly a children’s fantasy, but not in the style most popular today with franchises like Harry Potter and Narnia. This film is actually wonderfully understated. It centers on two children who are misfits of a sort. Like many kids they feel alien in the world around them. They are at that awkward age where they are gett…ng too old for childishness but are still too young for the adult world. The only option left to them is to create a world where not only do they fit in but rule with confidence. Terabithia is indeed populated with the traditional fantasy elements, but here these things blend in with the real world around them. It is a place firmly imbedded in their imaginations, a world let out only in snippets at a time. The film is never overwhelmed with an f/x laden image that fails to satisfy on any complete level. They immerse themselves in the battle of good and evil in Terabithia, but everything there is strongly connected with the lives they are actually living in the mundane world of reality. The film also goes down a path that will be unexpected, and that I will not spoil for you now. Like all classic Disney, Bridge To Terabithia is loaded with the obligatory life lessons. Concepts like friendship and standing up for yourself abound. Disney understands that less can often be more, and that understanding makes this a far more rewarding film to watch. There are moments when the film does bog itself down and move somewhat slowly. If I think so, I’m sure the kiddies will be even more aware. The film dips its toe into Christianity a bit. Most of this is directly from the Katherine Paterson novel. Fantasy and reality can often be so intertwined here that you will never quite know where one ends and the other begins until you are already fully there.
Another fine Disney tradition is the performances they have consistently gotten from child actors. Bridge To Terabithia is no exception. Jess, played by Josh Hutcherson, is the understated character. Hutcherson does a fine job of portraying the changes that come over his character. When we first meet Josh, he is shy and turned well within himself. He gets picked on at school, and his Dad seems to favor his younger sister. Once he warms up to new student Leslie, he begins to open up and finally finds things to get excited about. AnnaSophia Robb is equally good as Leslie. Leslie’s character doesn’t change quite so much. Still, it is Leslie who must bring out Jess. It is her imagination that first gives birth to Terabithia. Robb plays her with a tremendous amount of energy.
This was director Gabor Csupo’s first major film, but it doesn’t show. He avoided the temptation to allow f/x driven things to dominate the film. As I’ve already mentioned, he brought out excellent performances from his cast. It didn’t hurt that the screenplay was written by David Paterson who happens to be the son of the author. We find out in the extras that Jess was based on some of his experiences. When the f/x are allowed to reveal the potential of Terabithia, they do so brilliantly. It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise when we learn that it is Peter Jackson’s WETA that created them.
The Bridge To Terabithia is presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The picture quality, while not outstanding, is quite a nice visual experience. Colors are always bright. Lighting at times seems a little too bright, and some scenes appear a little washed out in the brightness. The cinematography here was very nice. The f/x shots blend seamlessly with the actual footage. There isn’t any real grain to speak of. I found no artifacting from either compression or print flaws. Black levels are fair as is shadow detail. Contrast is good when the film is lit more neutrally.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is quite good. The surrounds, while not aggressive, serve exactly what they should. Subtle sounds like the buzzing of creatures surrounds you instantly and all at once. I believe there was an effort to increase the surrounds while engaged in the Kingdom of Terabithia, which was a wonderful touch. It isn’t often that we’re allowed to experience subtle differences in place through sound. I rather enjoyed the concept. Dialogue is usually clear and always properly placed in the mix. The sweeping music contains all the clarity required to fully integrate you emotionally within the film.
There are two commentary tracks available here. The first includes director Csupo, writer Jeff Stockwell, and producer Hal Lieberman. They provide very much a surface discussion that never tells us a lot. There’s quite a bit self congratulation going on.
The second commentary features AnnaSophia Robb and Josh Hutcherson. They are joined by Lauren Levine, one of the producers. The kids are pretty up most of the time and give the impression they had a grand old time doing the film. While the track might not be terribly informative, it is fun.
“Digital Imagination: Bringing Terabithia To Life” At 6 minutes this feature doesn’t go as deeply as one would like. The philosophy rather than the technique is the focus.
”Behind The Book: The Themes Of Bridge To Terabithia” Teachers, librarians, and the author herself give us a glowing look at the original 1977 book. We don’t learn much except from Paterson herself. Most of this is people telling us how wonderful it all is.
“Music Video: Keep Your Mind Wide Open” This is a children’s music video with Robb singing the title song with clips from the film. She’s awfully smiley. A little too sweet for my tastes. Disney has started something called “fast play”, which it seems is intended to allow you to go directly to the feature. Normally it’s no big deal, but the folks at Dis love to cram trailers in the beginning of their discs, so this might be a step in the right direction.
Bridge To Terabithia is classic Disney in a new wrapper. The f/x are better, but make no mistake, this film has that Walt Disney seal of approval all over it. So, will you want to pick it up? That depends on how you feel about classic Disney. Do you want a fantasy complete with trolls and fantastic animals? Do you want a light adventure complete with high moral values? Will you have a problem if your kids start chanting “Free the pee”? They will, trust me. If all of those things are your cup of tea, “There they are waiting”.
Special Features List
- 2 Audio Commentaries
- Digital Imagination: Bringing Terabithia to Life
- Behind the Book: The themes of Bridge to Terabithia
- AnnaSophia Robb music video: “Keep Your Mind Wide Open”