Lowdown: Kids look for acceptance in an imaginary world.
Prior to watching it, Bridge to Terabithia (BtT) intrigued me. On one hand, it was produced by Walden Media, a Christian evangelical group that peps up its films with good old Christian values as per their most famous creation so far, Narnia. BTW, it is interesting to note that the major studio collaborating with Walden in the production of the film is Disney: guess it takes a devil to cooperate with another. All this devil talk certainly made me curious!
BtT also got favorable reviews by the ABC’s David & Margaret. They said it was a nice adventure story and had a bit of a problem with its monsters, but if memory serves me right they gave the film three stars – again, that’s enough to make me interested in what seemed like a fantasy story (not it doesn't really matter what they said; it's what I remember them to say that matters). Who knows, maybe it would be a Christian version of Stardust? I was even more curious!
I’ll cut to the chase: I was gravely disappointed by BtT, mostly because it is not a fantasy tale at all but rather a film of a completely different nature that includes a bit of fantasy. I will warn you now that the following paragraphs include a major spoiler, so for the benefit of those who won’t read the rest I will add that not only is BtT not a fantasy tale, it is also very badly made.
Still here? OK.
So what genre does BtT fall into then, if it’s not a fantasy tale? The simple answer to the question is that it’s a film about outsiders. To narrow it down even more, it’s a film aimed at children that discusses outsider children and their attempts to survive and maybe even prosper in a hostile environment (that is, an environment made mostly of conformist kids). Thing is, given its target audience – kids having a hard time and looking for help – BtT packs a rather violent twist that makes me warn every parent out there not to show it to their kids.
BtT tells the story of a young teenager boy (as in, a teenager who only recently hit double digits) living somewhere in rural USA, where, as it seems, most people would fall under the definition of simple god fearing folk. He is good at drawing but he doesn’t get much acknowledgement on that: like all good god fearing families, his mother is mostly busy in the kitchen taking care of his three sisters while his father (Robert Patrick, the only familiar face in the film) is a hard working man that just provides for the family and is mostly interested in how well his only son has performed his house chores.
The boy is not only an outsider at home but also an outsider at school. The only person who would relate to him on the school bus is his little sister, while all the rest are pretty mean.
That, however, changes when a new girl comes to town. That girl is something else: she is not particularly Jesus oriented by her own admission, she is very literate (her parents are writers), and she can even outrun the boys in running competitions. This very imaginative girl finds her way into our boy’s class and, as is quite obvious, they quickly find shelter in each other’s unconventional company. Their differences unites them.
The Terabithia part of the story is the story of the two kids’ escape route: they find this abandoned neck of the woods and in their imagination they create a world of monsters and heroes where they just happen to be the rulers. They have some imaginative adventures there and they utilize some super powers to fend off some evil monsters (that, by the way, have a long way to climb up the ladder of evil before any other film would regard them as a proper baddie).
As I said, the imaginary bit of the film is quite short and is far from being center stage. The bulk of the film is to do with the children’s struggle to find their own identity amidst the surrounding atmosphere of alienation, manifested through older kids bullying the younger ones, sisters only interested in watching the crap on TV, parents who are not there, and lack of appreciation for our kids’ talents.
BtT takes a major turn at the end of is second act (that is, two thirds across this hour and a half long film). And here is the major spoiler: That girl that changed the scene for our boy dies; the rest of the film then becomes the story of coping with this death.
And that’s where my main problem with BtT lies: First and foremost, this death makes this supposedly PG rated film pretty much unwatchable for kids. While death is often portrayed in kids’ films, I can hardly recall a case where (a) it takes such a central role, (b) it is to do with a girl that is a child herself (as opposed to the more regular scene of a older relative dying), (c) it is to do with a main character as opposed to a supporting role, and (d) it consumes the viewer’s attention as much. Sure, teaching kids about death is important, but why so bluntly? If this is Walden’s idea of instilling good values, I would say they need a brain implant.
Thus BtT ends up a mishmash of sorts: a tale of kids trying to find their place, a tale of fantasy, and a tale of coping with death. None of the components really work that well with one another, the attempts at synergy are badly executed with suspension of disbelief overly stretched and the kids’ poor acting kills it all.
You finish watching the film and you ask yourself what it was all about and what was it that the film tried to tell you. The problem is, it’s hard to say: does it imply you need to escape to an imaginary world in order to cope with your problems here on earth? In my opinion the issues raised by the film are issues well worth discussing, it’s just that the handling is bad and the proposed solutions would make things even worse.
Memorable fact: The film’s church will not take females wearing pants in. I wonder if that is the general case with churches? I don’t recall the bible having much to say about pants, especially in the context of women. Still, it’s probably much better than the treatment women get at synagogues.
Technical assessment: As I had said on previous occasions – Disney knows how to produce a DVD.
Overall: A badly made projection of a weird mind that is quite disturbing. 1.5 out of 5 stars.