Bridge to Terabithia (PG)
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Caution: potential spoilers.
This is based on a book which... I dunno. I feel like I could have read it when I was quite young. Or I could have seen an earlier television adaptation of the book. Or I could have just read about the book, or read excerpts from it, or... something. The title is just one of those things that triggers a vague bell from childhood, in my memory, but... I can't be sure of anything. Still, it is a movie I was definitely interested in seeing, regardless of any past association, vague or not. And I enjoyed it, but... seeing it didn't exactly jog my memory, I'm afraid.
Anyway, it's about this boy who's about 10 years old, named Jess Aarons (Josh Hutcherson), who has four sisters (I think two of them are maybe a bit older, and one is a baby, but none of them play an important role in the movie). The only one of his siblings who is really important is his younger sister May Belle (Bailee Madison), who clearly looks up to him. The Aaronses don't have a lot of money, and Jess doesn't seem particularly happy with his home life. Also, he gets bullied at school a lot. But he has a means of escape in his drawing, a skill he's really good at. He's also the fastest runner in school. Then one day, a new girl moves in next door, Leslie Burke (AnnaSophia Robb), who turns out to be even faster than he is. Also, she likes to make up stories. Her parents are fiction writers, and they have more money than Jess's parents, and their relationship with their daughter (an only child) seems to be better than Jess's relationship with his own parents (though apparently Leslie doesn't get to spend as much time with them as she'd like).
Anyway, Leslie is, like Jess, rather different from the other kids, and so, like him, not really good at making friends, in spite of being a much more outgoing, optimistic sort of person than Jess, who is more introverted. She tries to befriend him, and it takes a little while, but he does start getting closer to her, and soon they're best friends. (May Belle also befriends Leslie, though she doesn't have a chance to get as close to her as Jess.) One day, Jess and Leslie find an old rope hanging above a creek, and Leslie decides to use it to swing to the other side. The two of them end up exploring the woods, and find an old abandoned treehouse, which they fix up. And Leslie starts making up stories about a kingdom called Terabithia, and all the magical creatures who live there.
Well, Jess and Leslie are the king and queen of Terabithia, apparently. There's also a shadowy figure called "the Dark Master" who I guess had enslaved the Terabithians, or something. So, the two of them had a kind of war going to reclaim their kingdom. Or something. I guess. It was all kind of sketchy, I would hope the book detailed the story the kids made up better than the movie did. But they were often fighting creatures that I guess worked for the Dark Master. The thing is, Leslie clearly had a really good imagination, and she encouraged Jess's imagination. So, little by little, throughout the movie, we get to see more and more of what the kids see. It seems odd to me to think of them both seeing exactly the same imaginary things, and odder still to try and reconcile what they're imagining with what's actually happening. There are times when we can see real animals, birds or squirrels or whatever, that are the basis for the larger, scarier creatures. Surely the animals aren't really taking part in the kids' imaginings. And some of the things the kids do are sort of... enhanced, like their speed and agility, or whatever. And at one point, Jess falls from a tree and is caught by a troll, saving him... which really confused me. It certainly didn't happen, but... does that mean he didn't really fall at all, or what? Meh. I dunno. There's a lot that didn't make sense to me. On the other hand, what bugged me the most is sort of... how little we ultimately get to see of their fantasy. A lot of the time we just see reality, and even then, like I said, we don't get a full understanding of the story they're developing.
But whatever. None of that's real, of course. It's all a way of escaping real life, which holds plenty of mundane problems for both of them. And it's a way of bonding. Their friendship is very important to both of them, and there's clearly the potential for it to develop beyond friendship. It does seem, eventually, like Jess is starting to develop romantic feelings for Leslie. However, he also had long had a crush on his music teacher, Miss Edmunds (Zooey Deschanel). And one day, instead of going to Terabithia with Leslie, Jess goes to a museum with Miss Edmunds, who wants to encourage his artistic talent. Of course, Jess appears confused about his conflicting feelings for her and Leslie. And when he returns home, he gets some devastating news, which causes him terrible grief and guilt... But, I don't want to say what that news was, or much of anything else from this point on. Except that... it eventually leads him to get even closer to May Belle, and finally take her to Terabithia, after building a bridge across the creek....
So, anyway, that's pretty much it. As I indicated, I would have preferred a bit more fantasy, as well as a better explanation of the line between fantasy and reality. But otherwise, it was all good. A lovely story of friendship, of opening one's mind to the world's possibilities and one's own potential, but also a story of great sorrow (I am not ashamed to say it made me cry). I really liked both of those kids, and I wish I could have gotten to know them better. And... I guess that's all I can think to say.