Leslie talks to Jess and May Belle after winning the race.
Bridge to Terabithia takes us to a rural small town where we meet the Aaron family just as the school year is about to start. The Aarons are a large family with five children, a few acres of land, and a lot of financial problems. The only one with an income is their father Jesse Sr. (Robert Patrick) who tries to make ends meet by raising plants on their land and working at the local hardware store. Their mom Nancy (Kate Butler) stays at home and minds their children. There are three teenaged daughters, Brenda, Ellie, and Joyce, one ten-year-old son Jesse Jr. (Josh Hutcherson), and the youngest daughter, May Belle (Bailee Madison). With a family that large, and not much money, the youngest end up with hand me downs, and Jesse is embarrassed to find out on the first day of school that the only shoes he has to wear are a pair of his older sister’s adidas that have pink stripes on them. Jess is artistically inclined and he tries to draw over the pink stripes with marking pens, but the ink runs which one of his classmates quickly notices. But Jess doesn’t care. He is sure that he is the fastest kid in the class, and will win the boys class race held after school on the first day. Imagine his (and the other boys’) surprise when the race is won by Leslie (AnnaSophia Robb), a new girl from the city who has just moved into the farm across the road from the Aarons. Her parents are professional writers, who have raised Leslie in a world without television, encouraging her creativity, providing her with literary training, and buying her whatever toys and clothing she wants. Leslie sports a fashionable tomboy look, with embroidered jeans and tee shirts, funky armbands, bracelets, and white knee high chucks. Although Leslie tries to reach out to Josh, he is at first hostile to her, like the other kids in their class. But she is persistent and gradually wins Jess and May Belle over — Jess because they share the same artistic inclinations, and May Belle because Leslie has a lot of dolls that she is willing to give her. Soon Jess and Leslie are spending a lot of time together, and their wandering through the nearby woods along with their imaginations leads them to discover a magical place they call Terabithia. In Terabithia squirrels and raccoons become trolls, insects become winged warriors, and trees become giants. Terabithia becomes a total escape from the real world for the two of them, fueled by the adventures that they create.
Bullies at the school charge a dollar for others to use the restroom.
Bridge to Terabithia is not just a film about imagination. Major subplots in the film deal with the issues of bullying at school, and the problems that Jess has with his family life, especially in his relationship with his father and later his little sister. One set of bullies are some eighth grade girls led by Janice Avery (Lauren Clinton) who extort money out of the younger kids to go to the rest room at school, and run the school bus that takes Jess, Leslie, and May Belle from their home to school every day with an iron and vindictive hand. One of the great moments in the film is when Leslie figures out a very clever way to take away Janice’s power. Another set of bullies are two classmates of Jesse and Leslie, Scott Hoager (Cameron Wakefield) and Gary Fulcher (Eliot Lawless), who act as continual thorns in Jess’ side during class until one emotional day in class when he strikes back. This leads to an unexpected and moving scene with Jess’ home room teacher Mrs. Myers (Jen Wolfe), who proves to be a lot more perceptive and caring than Jess (and the audience) thought possible. This is one of the great things about this film. Even the minor supporting characters have multiple dimensions to them that are revealed as the story unfolds. The second subplot deals with Jess’ relationship with his father. As the only son in the Aaron family, a lot of expectations are put on him, and his father seems incapable of understanding his artistic side. Yet at times there is still real love expressed between the generations, and it makes you understand what family values really are about, especially in troubled times.
Leslie and Jesse get to the land of Terabithia by swinging a rope over the creek.
Bridge to Terabithia stands out from the usual family/fantasy film because its themes stress the importance of creativity, imagination, and the significance of the arts in people’s lives. You wouldn’t think of that based on the advertising for the film, which tries to make it look like another installment of The Chronicles of Narnia or Harry Potter, although it does have its share of imaginary creatures and special effects. Luckily screenwriters Jeff Stockwell and David Patterson and director Gabor Csupo stayed true to the intentions of the Katherine Patterson story and as a result, we have a film with a lot more emotion and truth in it than animated effects. It’s not often that you see a trio of characters in a family film that so well represent the world of fine arts. First you have Jesse, the aspiring artist who escapes his not so satisfying real world life through his drawings and paintings. Then you have Leslie, the new girl in town filled with creativity, imagination, literary skills, and the desire to challenge the status quo. She instinctively understands that Jess is a compadre, but one who needs some cultivation. As their friendship begins to blossom, so does Jess’ imagination and art work. To finish, you have the music teacher, Ms. Edmonds, who clearly brings some joy and happiness to the students at the local school whenever she comes in with her portable music class. She is the first adult to really encourage Jess. One of the best scenes in the film is where she takes him to the city to see a real art museum. The glow on Jess’ face shows how important this is for his development and she states that “This has been an honor for me,” when she finds out that this is his first visit to a museum. The film does not gloss over the fact that there often is a tragic side to the world of friendships and the arts. Bridge to Terabithia has some very emotional high and low points to it, and you will be moved by the emotions the simple story line is capable of generating. The film is well cast, with both Josh Hutcherson and AnnaSophia Robb showing that they have what it takes to sustain a feature film. Kudos should also go to Zooey Deschanel for her performance as Ms. Edmonds, Robert Patrick as Jess’ father, Jen Wolf as the home room teacher, and Bailee Madison, as Jess’ younger sister May Belle. All told, Bridge to Terabithia is one of the finest family films of 2007.
Jess relaxes with Leslie and her parents after helping them paint the living room.
Leslie wins the race wearing her knee high chucks.
AnnaSophia Robb in her role as the creative and non-conformist Leslie, wears white knee high chucks with graphic nature drawings on them. She further customizes them with different colored laces and different baubles that she adds to the laces or eyelets. The best scene with them is during the race, when she takes on the field of boys wearing her knee high chucks.
Leslie customized her knee high chucks with different laces and baubles.
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