- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 17, 2007

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit group dedicated to improving the entertainment lives of families, provides reviews of the latest movies from a parenting perspective. For more reviews, click on commonsensemedia.org.

‘Bridge to Terabithia’

Rating: PG for thematic elements, including bullying, some peril and mild language.

Common Sense Media: On. For ages 8 and older.

**** (out of five stars)

Running time: 95 minutes

Common Sense review: Based on Katherine Paterson’s Newbery Medal-winning 1977 book, this touching adaptation is the ultimate story of boy-girl friendship.

Meet two 10-year-olds who prefer to use their imaginations. Jess Aarons (Josh Hutcherson) is the only brother stuck between four sisters. He has one desire: to be the fastest runner in fifth grade. He almost gets his wish, until the new kid in class — his neighbor Leslie Burke (a glowing AnnaSophia Robb) — outsprints him the first day of school.

Jess and Leslie eventually form a fast friendship despite that defeat and their different upbringings — he’s the son of a poor mechanic/small-time farmer and must wear his sister’s hand-me-down sneakers; she’s the only daughter of intellectual back-to-the-landers who write for a living.

Leslie decides that they need a special place to call their own, so they construct a magical land in the woods behind their houses — a hideaway accessible only by swinging across a creek on a rope. Leslie dubs their land “Terabithia” and proclaims them its king and queen.

As in Narnia, only the initiated can see Terabithia’s wonder, which is full of buzzing fairies and flying, rodentlike evildoers. As their imaginary world develops, each contributes individual talents to the task: Leslie builds, and Jess draws.

Outside of Terabithia, the best friends share glimpses into each other’s lives: Leslie goes to church for the first time, and Jess hangs out with her laid-back parents. At school, they delight in the weekly visit of breezy music teacher Ms. Edmonds (Zooey Deschanel).

Even with all their knowing looks and sparkly-eyed smiles, Jess and Leslie’s friendship — as in the book — doesn’t devolve into pre-adolescent dating. It’s as true a friendship as fiction offers. When tragedy strikes, quickly and unexpectedly, the fragility of Terabithia is exposed. Yet somehow, the magic continues.

Common Sense note: Parents need to know that this movie isn’t a fantasy adventure as much as it is a thoughtful drama. The story includes mature themes about loneliness, platonic love, parental affection, family relationships, religious and class differences and even death. Potential spoiler alert: Because of a central character’s death, sensitive children (or those who have experienced the loss of a loved one) may need to be comforted after the film.

Families can talk about what made Jess and Leslie such good friends. How were they lonely before they met each other? How were they different? What did they teach each other? Were they boyfriend and girlfriend or something different? Why is that rare?

Families also can discuss what happens to Jess and Leslie and how Terabithia changes them. Why was it so important for them to have a “place just for us”? Children: Do you have your own special place or your own Jess or Leslie? If you have read the novel, how is the movie different? Parents should encourage children who haven’t read it yet to get a copy.

Sexual content: The main characters share an intense, affectionate friendship. Characters write a fake love letter to a teenage girl. A boy stares at and has an obvious crush on a teacher.

Language alert: Mild insults among siblings and school-age children; a father makes a couple of hurtful comments.

Violence alert: A child has a tragic accident. With cause, a boy punches another boy in the face. A teen bully pushes and menaces younger children.

Social-behavior alert: Some pranks are played at others’ expense, but instigators either get appropriately punished or feel contrite.

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