Bridge to Terabithia is a film most children should see, but it’s so dully aestheticized they may not care to. Like Arthur and the Invisibles, the story observes a young boy navigating the precarious crawlspace between childhood innocence and adult responsibility, but Gabor Csupo doesn’t have Luc Besson’s talent for enlivening cliché homilies with bold colors and striking camera angles. A loner with a talent for drawing and a tendency to say very little, Jess (Josh Hutcherson) goes to one of those schools that only exist in Disney movies and television programs where the worst thing a bully can do to you is steal your Twinkies or ask you for a dollar in order to let you into the bathroom. (Equally sketchy is the story’s Disneyed sense of poverty: Jess’s mother and father are always punching away at their calculator, and though the outside of their house could use some repair, no one who has grappled with poverty will commiserate with the family’s state of affairs.) Not long after the eccentric Leslie (AnnaSophia Robb) arrives from out of town, she and Jess become friends, traveling into the woods behind their homes and stumbling across a world born of their own fantasies. These children don’t exactly have it hard at school, but the way they use their imaginations to problem-solve crisis is interesting, responding to their challenges with great determination but not always with great care, as in the inhumane embarrassment they contrive against an 8th-grade bully by making her think a boy is in love with her. Jess and Leslie grapple with faith, God, identity, remorse, even death (though never sex—this is a Disney movie after all) in ways that should be familiar to us all. This makes the film very special, even if Csupo’s visuals are so unmoving they become depressing.
Disney's decision to ditch the Buena Vista label has brought the studio good karma with this DVD edition of Bridge to Terabithia. Save for some unattractive edges and minor haloing, the image is colorful and film-like, so rich in detail you'd have to be blind to miss AnnaSophia Robb's camel toe at the beginning of chapter eight. The audio is insanely good for a film of this kind, almost menacing during rather ordinary scenes such as Jess and Leslie's initial confrontation on the racing field, with the leaves around them suggesting a supernatural force.
On the first of two commentary tracks, director Gabor Csupo, writer Jeff Stockwell, and producer Hal Lieberman warmly parse the film's themes on an adult level. Actors Josh Hutcherson and AnnaSophia Robb and producer Lauren Levine keep it equally real, but since they are appealing to tykes here, it's probably no surprise that they grapple with the story a little less seriously (only Levine handles the moment Disney doesn't want critics to talk about with the consideration it deserves). Rounding out the disc is Robb's music video for "Keep Your Mind Wide Open," two featurettes ("Behind the Book: The Themes of Bridge to Terabithia" and "Digital Imagination: Bringing Terabithia to Life") that exude a librarian's charm, and previews for other Disney product coming to theaters and home video.
Bridge to Terabithia broaches the subject of death with more nuance than Bambi.