I’ve never read the book, but from what I found on Wikipedia, the movie didn’t diverge from the book at all. It’s hard to say whether this was a good movie or not due to that fact. My initial impression after seeing the film was that there is no way I would take a child to see this movie; it’s too depressing (I’ll explain in a moment). According to the Wikipedia entry, the author, Katherine Paterson, was inspired to write this story after her son’s best friend was struck by lightning and killed. With that inspiration, she created a story that was more depressing. Before I get into it, now’s your chance to stop reading if you want to decide for yourself whether or not to watch this film unbiased. Also, if you haven’t already guessed how the story ends, I’m going to tell you.
This story is filled with situations that are all too common in real life. Jesse Aarons (Josh Hutcherson) is one of five children and is the only boy. He loves art and has talent for drawings. His father loves the girls, but doesn’t show any affection toward Jesse. He looks down on him and thinks that the drawings are a waste of time. The second youngest sister, May Belle, is the only one of his siblings that even bothers to talk to him and she thinks the world of him. At school, Jesse fares no better. He is constantly harassed by bullies and has a crush on his music teacher, Miss Edmunds (Zooey Deschanel). Have I described any of your childhoods yet?
His life takes an interesting turn when the new girl, Leslie Burke (AnnaSophia Robb), befriends him. She is the only child of a pair of wealthy writers and she has a very vivid imagine. Like Jesse, she is lonely and escapes the troubles of childhood through fantasy. Once together, Leslie brings the imagination out of Jesse and they invent Terabithia, an imaginary kingdom that is hidden in the forest by their houses. While there, they face off against monsters and creatures that represent struggles they are facing in real life. How about now? Your childhood or your friend’s childhood?
Jesse’s life peaks when Miss Edmunds invites him to the art museum. He considers inviting Leslie, but decides to keep this to himself. This is one of the lessons that Paterson wants children to learn from this story. Don’t be selfish or you’ll pay the consequences. When he gets back, his parents are completely freaked out and tell him they thought he was dead. They tell Jesse that Leslie drowned in the river (the border of Terabithia) earlier that day. Eventually, he comes to blame himself for not inviting her to the museum, completing Paterson’s lesson. While it’s a little harsh for him to pay that kind of punishment, he absolves himself by saving his sister from the same fate. The film ends with him building a proper bridge across the river and making May Belle a princess.
As I said, this is a very common theme among children, especially those whose parents struggle to make ends meet. We’ve all imagined ourselves in other worlds and dreamt of grand adventures to get away from the reality of the world and to have attention from anyone who gives it willingly. I believe this story is pointed more at parents than children. Paterson is trying to tell parents to pay attention to their kids and show those kids that they are loved. It’s a good lesson for parents to remember.
But I can’t stress enough that this movie isn’t for kids. I don’t care that it’s a Disney film, or that it’s rated G, or that it’s supposed to be a fantasy. No kid should have to worry that his or her friend might die any day. That’s what parents are supposed to worry about. The film also hits too close to home on the subject of bullies at school and how to deal with them. Bullies are best dealt with by simply ignoring them or treating them like humans. Not by punching them in the face or playing incredibly humiliating pranks on them. These are not good lessons for children to learn or to repeat. There is also very little fantasy in this film. That probably explains why this book is frequently a target of censorship. Parents don’t feel that their kids should be reading stuff like this. Someone should tell those parents that this book is intended for them to read, not their kids.
On a final note, if you view this via DVD, check out the music video. AnnaSophia Robb has a music video and the song is quite good. Just ignore the fact that Disney is trying to turn a thirteen year-old into a sex symbol.
Rating: Ask for four dollars back unless you are a parent, in which case it’s worth the investment.