Bridge to Terabithia (2007)

Hello darkness, my old friend...
Once upon a time I started trying to write reviews. I did this over at my buddy Felix's site, Cinema Crazed, and he encouraged me to continue. That's a big part of why I am still doing this, because he believed in me. Back then I reviewed good movies and I reviewed bad movies. And I reviewed this movie, which left me in a very sour state because I did not react well to this movie in the least. Moreover, I was also frustrated because this movie actually depressed my mother for weeks after we watched it. One single film did that. But I am a little older now, a little more experienced, and I have a bit of distance from that initial experience. I even have a few people who tell me that they enjoyed this film and that I should give it another chance. So, bear with me as I do just that.

Or you can just stare at this bear. That's fine too.
The story gives us a young man named Jesse, who comes from a low-income family and aspires to one day be an artist. He has the classic family dynamic: a bratty younger sister, an older sister who seems to be more of a prop, a stern working-class father, and a mother who doesn't seem to have a defined personality. He deals with those classic problems that all poor kids have to deal with: bullies, being misunderstood, and having to wear his sister's shoes. Wait...what? I'm sorry, I get that they're a low-income family, but really? I know the film is based on a book from the 70s, but can we try to update it? There are places where one can get cheap shoes now and even free ones. It bothers me, honestly, because I grew up with kids just as low-income whose parents always made sure their kids had proper clothing. But, yeah, this is our first awkward moment in the film that highlights a major problem. That problem being that the story is incredibly dated and doesn't reflect the time period it is obviously set in. If they wanted to keep the story the same without any changes, they should've set it in the time period of the book. It's not really hard to do.

"You just don't get it, you doodyhead."
As others have pointed out, the insults from the bullies seem really tame and generic too. I mean, I know it's Disney, but a kid running around calling you 'dead meat' isn't really threatening in the least. I remember when I went to school and had other kids threaten to skin me, so this just seems really silly to me. We're also introduced to our main female lead, Leslie. And Leslie is really the most adorable thing in the world. She's likable, strong-willed, intelligent, and imaginative. Actually...why isn't she the main character? Because Jesse is boring as fuck. He's barely got a personality outside of the brooding he does through 90% of the film. It's honestly more of a waiting game to see the next scene with Leslie, because the parts without her feel like a bad after-school special. But, I will say that she does get annoying with how overly happy she always is. Everything about her is pure joy, which gets old pretty fast. I'm all for people being positive, but damn.

Yay, bland whimsy!
Then there is the CG scenes with magical creatures, which basically only exist for trailers. I'm sorry, but everyone knows it's true. These parts were featured heavily in the trailers and I can only assume were put there to trick people into thinking this was a fantasy film, which it isn't. And these parts, while interesting, are all too brief. The film focuses too much on scenes that are trying too hard to either be dark or magical. But, that's not the worst part of the film, no. That unique honour belongs to when Jesse invites his new friend to go to church. Well, actually she really kind of forces her way into it while he attempts to talk her out it with claims that she can't wear pants. Yep, that doesn't date the film at all. And because religion mixes so well into Disney films, we get my favourite awkward moment in the film as they're driving home. The little sister says, and this is a direct quote, "cause if you don't believe in the Bible, God will damn you to Hell when you die." That right there is a thing that they just said in a Disney film. Sure, Leslie immediately tries to erase it with her whimsy, but I'm sorry, it's not working for me. That little girl has been taught that not believing in a book of moral stories means you go to a place of eternal suffering.

Brainwashing is so adorable at that age.
That part always pissed me off, because I felt like they were trying to force religion down kids' throats. Can't they at least hide it behind a really awesome fantasy setting like with Chronicles of Narnia? Sure, there are religious overtones, but there's also a talking lion and a mouse with a rapier. I am going to say that kids aren't reading the subtext with Narnia, because it's just really cool fantasy story. With this there isn't any subtext, it's just right there for everyone to see. A little girl basically just told another girl that she is going to go to Hell when she dies. Yay, Disney! Anyway, after that, nothing bad could possibly happen, right?

It's not like this scene was foreshadowing anything that was going to completely alter the mood of the film.
Jesse gets...well, basically asked on a date by his teacher, played by Zooey Deschanel, so he goes and hangs out with her all day. Yeah, it really is as weird as it sounds. I refuse to believe that it is normal for a young teacher to take her student out somewhere without his parents' knowledge, where it's just the two of them. That should set off a ton of alarms. Zooey clearly wants some of that brooding jailbait ass. We're given a nice montage of them and then he gets home to his parents both (understandably) freaking the hell out. Why? It could be because the young idiot ran off with someone without telling them where he was going. It could also be because, while he was gone, Leslie died horribly swinging across on that old rope and might have lived if he hadn't been trying to get into the bone-zone with one-half of She & Him.

"This next song's about how adorably quirky I am. And pedophilia."
So, the rest of the film becomes this long drawn out chronicle of Jesse's guilt and suffering over his friend's death. The tone is a dramatic shift from earlier where they were trying to make everything seem so magical that Merlin could actually just be a history teacher. They literally went from celebrating the magic of mundane things to being a huge downer. And, while it is well handled, I hate the second half of the film more than the first. Why? Because it feels like they were trying to make two different films and just mashed them together haphazardly. Shoving reality into a film that seems to be about celebrating magic and imagination just turns everything into a huge buzzkill. When we get the closing scene where Jesse brings his sister into his and Leslie's shared imaginary world, it just feels silly and unnatural. People do not recover that quickly from grief. Oftentimes they carry the burden of survivor's guilt with them for a lifetime. And looking at how broody he was early on, I have a difficult time believing that he's in an emotional state where he can easily go back to being as he was with his lost friend this soon.

Whimsy and CG heals all wounds, apparently.
Now that I have given this film a second chance, here are my final thoughts. It's a terrible film. Bitch at me if you want, defend the film until your dying breath, but I honestly felt like it was just bad. I mean, it has good moments and the actors were all good, but that in itself is another detriment as none of the actors are really utilized to their potential. Robert Patrick is completely wasted here and Zooey's character really seemed a bit too determined to get close to Hutcherson's. I respect the message the second half of the film gives, about dealing with grief, but when presented following the initial message of everything being magical and to use your imagination, it felt really out of place. This film just can't decide what it wants to be, and that's the biggest problem with it. I don't recommend it for kids or for adults and think your time would be better served spending time together as family than watching this. That's my take, feel free to crucify me over it, I will stand by it nonetheless. Until next time, I'll be here...hopefully watching something a lot better.

"And I'll be in Hell because I don't believe in a book written a long time ago. Yay! Whimsy!"