Adapted from the Newberry Medal-winning young adults' book of the same name by Katherine Paterson, 'Bridge to Terabithia' is about a pair of isolated children who imagine a magical forest kingdom together.
Eleven-year-old Jess Aarons (Hutcherson), a skilled artist, has the weight of the world on his shoulders. Not only has he four sisters, a very stern dad (not surprising, seeing as he's played by Robert Patrick, the terminator from 'T2: Judgement Day') and lots of chores to do around home, but he has to wear hand-me-down pink trainers on his first day back at school. Then he gets beaten in a race that he's been training for all summer by the new girl in his class, Leslie Burke (Robb). At first he's not at all impressed when he finds out that Leslie is his new next door neighbour but, before long, their isolation from their contemporaries and overactive imaginations draws them closer.
Together they escape from a difficult world of reality, of family responsibilities and bullies on the school bus, into the mutually imagined kingdom that Leslie names Terabithia. As visualised by director Gábor Csupó, it is a Narnia-like world - its name derives from CS Lewis' Narnian island of Terabithia - peopled by fantastical CGI creatures which magically embody the troubles and fears that beset Jess and Leslie. A swing across a creek, Huck Finn-style, marks the entrance into their world, which they see surrounding around an old, abandoned tree house in the woods.
Both leads, Josh Hutcherson, who previously appeared in 'The Polar Express', and AnnaSophia Robb from 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory', give charming performances, as does precocious little Bailey Madison as Jess' sister May Belle. Zooey Deschanel ('The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy', 'All the Real Girls') puts in an odd, if tuneful turn, as the kids' flower-power music teacher, Ms Edmonds.
Although '...Terabithia' is well produced and stylishly filmed, the line between fantasy and reality is never properly defined. Are these just imaginary creatures - as when a pursuing troll turns into a large tree - or real (the troll catching Leslie when she falls)? Although the trailer concentrates solely on the fantasy elements, those who go to the cinema hoping for another Middle Earth or Narnia experience will be sorely disappointed; this is instead a very human and rather sentimental story.
'...Terabithia' may be a family-friendly story with plenty of Important Life Lessons but some of the events in the last quarter sit uncomfortably with the rest of the film. If it's Important Life Lessons you're looking for 'The Last Mimzy' may be a better choice.