I've always been disturbed by magical fantasy lands, with their freakish, unhygienic residents and utter disregard for the great pillars of democracy. So while I'm slightly bothered by the questionable marketing of Bridge to Terabithia as a Narnia-esque romp through fantasyland (most of the film looks much more like the top of the DVD cover than the bottom), there's something about the simplicity of the story that's sincere and appealing. Rural outcasts Jesse and Leslie (screen vets Josh Hutcherson and AnnaSophia Robb) don't discover some portal into a secret world, they just imagine the couple acres of woodland they frequent (trespass on) to be inhabited by giant trolls and the evil Dark Master (who, from the fleeting looks of him, may actually be Ice-T still trying to Survive the Game). And as a well-constructed family film, this adaptation of Katherine Patterson's novel speaks to the power of imagination and creativity more so than we've seen any effects-laden flick do in years. When not frolicking in their fanciful playland, the kids learn valuable life lessons (bullies may just have bad daddies) and rockin' tunes from their hip music teach (Zooey Deschanel, without a hint of cynicism or sarcasm). And then there's the story's dramatic bomb, which I won't spoil here but which I gotta say gave me bad flashbacks to My Girl and made Terabithia suddenly feel like gloomster Alejandro González Iñárritu's answer to Pan's Labyrinth. It may give the film a sharper edge than some families may be in the mood for, but it's another virtue that separates this one from the fray.
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