The Bridge to Terabithia: A Word of Warning to Parents

THIS WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON ASSOCIATEDCONTENT.COM ON February 18, 2007

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If you have seen the trailers for the new movie Bridge to Terabithia let me inform you that you haven’t seen much of the movie. This movie is being sold as a kind of Cliffs Notes version of Lord of the Rings—to which it is far superior, by the way—in some kind of misguided attempt to bring in an older audience, I suppose. I cannot for the life of me think of any other reason why the filmmakers would take what amounts to less than ten minutes of screen time and turn it into 90% of their previews. Seriously, just about all the scenes involving otherworldly creatures are aired during the previews for Bridge to Terabithia.

This marketing decision presents two problems for potential moviegoers, one small and one enormous. The smaller of the two problems is that anyone hoping that Bridge to Terabithia is going to resemble the overdone special effects laden Lord of the Rings movies will be disappointed. (And, inversely, those who found that series to be a cure for insomnia will be delightfully surprised to find that filmmakers can actually make a movie using CGI that relies on old-fashioned things like storytelling and acting to make its points.) As someone who will NEVER understand the attraction of Lord of the Rings, let me tell you flat out that if you are avoiding Bridge to Terabithia because you think that’s what it’s going to be, you are making a huge mistake.

Now for the second big mistake. And at this point I must take time to make this announcement:

SPOILER ALERT

If you do not want to know the big plot twist that drives the climax and conclusion of Bridge to Terabithia then stop reading. I am giving away the ending of this movie because I think it is highly important for parents to know what happens in this movie. The marketing of Bridge to Terabithia is not only misguided, it is deceitful and, frankly, verges on the unethical.

As I indicated, the previews of Bridge to Terabithia appear to be selling a fantasyland adventure in the Lord of the Rings/Harry Potter mold. Nothing could be further from the truth. All of the action takes place in the here and now, even the scenes that “take place” in Terabithia. The true story of Bridge to Terabithia involves the friendship of a young girl and young boy who escape to a real life wooded place to get away from bullies, jerks and parents who don’t really get them. So far, so good. But what parents really need to be aware of, especially those with sensitive children, is that there is an occurrence near the end of this film that is, to be totally honest, as emotionally devastating as anything I have ever seen in a children’s movie.

The movie focuses on the arrival of a young girl, played by the luminous AnnaSophia Robb. Robb plays a young girl who is, to say the least, the kind of spirit too rarely seen in the world of children this young. Or adults, for that matter. The character as written is so incredibly attractive that anyone with a son that age can only hope he will wind up with a young woman as knowing and wise. Add to the fact that Robb’s huge eyes and winning smile make this character such a charismatic personality that I suspect more than a few young boys will have fallen in the love by the time the movie is over.

And that is the problem. This character—Leslie Burke—would probably be one of the year’s most memorable no matter who played her. The fact that AnnaSophia Robb possesses such a magnetic quality and is filmed in such a way as to heighten her charm merely makes it all that much worse when her character dies.

Unlike, say, Simon Birch where the deaths of two major characters are revealed before they occur, there is nothing to prepare for this plot twist. Although there is a definite sense that something bad may occur in the sequence just before Leslie’s death is announced—thankfully it occurs off-camera—by that time it’s too late. Young kids will have already grown attached to the free-spiritedness and intelligence of this young woman and as a result her death is, once again, simply devastating. Children who are not familiar with this classic book are likely to be knocked for a loop when this death occurs. Normally, I try to always avoid giving away the ending of a movie, even when I take the step to provide a spoiler alert warning. This particular case cries out for parents to be aware of what takes place in this movie because, apparently, the moviemakers are so interested in making money by fraudulently marketing it as a kind of cousin to the billion-dollar profit-making bonanza that is Lord of the Rings that they don’t care the slightest about the emotional effects it may have on sensitive viewers.

If you are the parent of a child who has reacted strongly to the unexpected deaths of movie characters before, I cannot urgently enough caution you to consider preparing your child beforehand for what is to come.