Bridge to Terabithia (Gabor Csupo, 2007)
Gabor Csupo's first venture to live action entertainment turns out to be quite a successful gamble. Csupo, who conceived and produced most of Nickelodeon's animated programs (including Rugrats, The Wild Thornberrys, and As Told By Ginger), adapts a popular children's book, Katherine Paterson's Bridge to Terabithia, and retains most of the source's adolescent depth and emotion; sacrificing very little of the source's literary quality to the calls of Hollywood, an admirable miracle during these times of 'roid-raged and pumped up fantasy literary adaptations.
Many will storm out of the theaters feeling shortchanged, complaining that the trailer led them to believe that the film is The Chronicles of Narnia-redux or The Lord of the Rings-for-kids. The swarms of bee-sized airborne troops, the gigantic tree-like troll, the wolf-like mutations and other monstrosities barely get any screentime. Moreover, they are hardly part of the plot --- more like beautifying artifacts to a coming-of-age flick; similar to the imaginary kingdoms in Peter Jackson's Heavenly Creatures (1995) and Hayao Miyazaki's Whisper of the Heart (1995). These fantastic places facilitate the telling of the story and add depth and child-like appreciation to these characters' transition to adulthood.
The marketing ploy is understandable; these tales aren't very comercially-viable nowadays and these film types mostly belong to Hallmark Channel (Paterson's book was already adapted into television movie in 1985) or in exoticized versions from foreign-language territories. Nowadays, tales like these earn very little attention from families and children served with brainless boob tube entertainment and are unaware of the diverse worlds literature is capable of giving. Call the trailers, the posters, the come-on's as evil deception; I really don't care, Csupo's Bridge to Terabithia is a film that deserves to be seen --- more so than the hateful crop of so-called entertainment that drives hordes of viewers from everywhere into a fanatic mob.
It's a beautiful film. It is mostly plotted exquisitely. Complaints of Csupo's unremarkable and impersonal direction are thrown as vital criticism to the film but I disagree. Watch some of Csupo's Rugrats episodes, the ones wherein the plot is controlled by the innocent understanding and point-of-view of its baby characters, or As Told By Ginger episodes, wherein the entire series exposes the realities (humorously, of course) of living elementary school-life as a nobody. It is clear that Csupo has an understanding that makes him the perfect storyteller for a tale like this. His observant and oftentimes accurate portrayal of school-life, with the hierarchy of age, the constant bullying, the insult-hurling, the student-teacher crushes, the traumatic bus-rides, may have been sourced from Paterson's narrative, but it is clear that the heart of the film lies in those moments.
It's also a very well-acted film. I am completely enthralled by the compelling performances Csupo gets from his young actors. Josh Hutcherson (as impoverished farm-boy) and AnnaSophia Robb (as the literate newcomer) carry the film with a delightful mixture of youthful charm and a desirable understanding of their respective characters' personal battles and stories. The supporting cast led by Robert Patrick (as the ambiguously stern yet caring father) and Zooey Deschanel (as the pretty and likeable music teacher) lends vital creds to the main players.
Sure, Bridge to Terabithia is no modern masterpiece, nor is it the type of film that will be remembered for a very long time. However, it is a rarity in a cinematic age obsessed with gore, violence, and erect nipples (female, or male). It is the type of adaptation I commend; it takes in the good from its source and enunciates it with filmic embellishments (CGI, directorial flourishes). It's greaseless, bloodless, and purely delightful --- which is precisely why it's very well-recommended in our sad sad world of hate and cynicism.