Walden Media are the Christian folk who believe in films with tone, uplift and a bright message. They brought us the dreary Narnia film, you might remember, and are at it again with this resolutely nice adaptation of Katherine Paterson’s book about a picked-on schoolboy Jesse (Josh Hutcherson) who discovers the key to beating his fears after new girl in town Leslie (AnnaSophia Robb) introduces him to the power of imagination. And as in Narnia, there’s a definite class component in Terabithia. Jesse is a blue-collar boy and Leslie’s parents are writers, which reinforces one of the tacit assumptions of nearly all imaginative literature and drama – the life of the mind is only for the well spoken. That said, I’m not sure what Walden are hoping to achieve by making a film telling us that it’s our minds that make the best pictures – they’re a movie production house, after all.
Tallying up the pluses and minues, Walden do come up with a lovely evocation of some of the simple joys of “race you to the end of the road” childhood and the film catches nicely the way young boys can fall badly for pretty female teachers (Zooey Deschanel in this case). It’s also strong on the disfiguring nastiness of bullying and the fact that the world of children exists almost invisibly right beneath the noses of adults. Debut director Gabor Csupo injects a bit of animation into the fabric of the film, as you might expect from someone who toiled long years on The Simpsons, though he never lets it gang up on the live action. On the downside Terabithia does contain some hideously drippy songs and the parents of Leslie are, in their sophisticated, aphoristic, coolly imaginative way, the sort of people you’d want to take out and shoot. At least in 13-year-old AnnaSophia Robb the film has a star. Give her five years and she’ll probably be the next Lindsay Lohan.
© Steve Morrissey 2007