It’s been a truism for decades that bright and imaginative children will create their own world, especially when the real one does not suit in the least, and distracted or uninvolved parents, quarrelsome siblings, intimidating teachers and playground bullies prove to be all too much. It’s all the more tempting to build a castle in the air, and move in. This is what ten-year old pals Jesse and Leslie do, in this beautifully detailed retelling of Katherine Paterson’s juvenile classic, about the power of imagination, friendship, family and loss.

Jesse (Josh Hutcherson) is one of five children and the only son in a semi-rural working-class family struggling to make ends meet. He is just beginning to explore the wonders of the artistic world, about which he initially knows very little. He is unhappy at school, despondent at home, where his harried father, played by Robert Patrick seems to want to pay more attention to his younger sister. About the only oasis in the hell of middle school for him are music classes led by Ms. Edmonds ( Zooey Deschanel), who comes in with her boxes of musical instruments every couple of days.

And then a new family moves in down the road from his school bus stop, and Jesse meets their only child, Leslie (AnnaSophia Robb) who is just as dreamy and imaginative, but slightly more confident. They are still the oddballs, among their peers, and one day they cross a stream on an old rope swing and discover their enchanted world, which Leslie names “Terabithia”. They repair a ruined tree-house and people the woods with creatures of their imaginings… creatures and monsters derived from the real-life bullies and monsters of the schoolyard.

The special effects are applied delicately in this production and with a sparing hand. The creatures of Terabithia are elusive, almost half-seen out of the corner of the eye. Most of the movie takes place in the real world anyway… the world that Terabithia and the friendship they share in it empowers them to face with increasing confidence. It is what enables Jesse to cope with the hurt of Leslie’s accidental death, about three-quarters of the way through the movie. The very subtle point is made that the adults in Jesse’s world; his father and mother, the stern English teacher, and even Leslie’s parents are not unloving and inattentive. Rather, they are inarticulate and taken up with the immediate cares of their own lives. All in all, it’s a beautiful, confidently well-constructed movie, about children who seem like real children, not smutty-mouthed midgets, and the sometimes harried and all too human families they are loved by. If you are not weeping into a handful of Kleenex by the time the titles roll, ask someone send over a pint of the milk of human sympathy to your table.

The extras in this DVD release are lavish, including a set of commentaries by director Gabor Csupo, writer Jeff Stockwell, and producer Hal Lieberman, and another with the two young stars, and producer Lauren Levine. There is also a music video of the theme song “Keep Your Mind Wide Open” sung by AnnaSophia Robb. She plays a child of ten convincingly in the movie itself, but in the video can pass as an elfinly pretty woman of about sixteen. She may be the next Lindsay Lohan, but with talent.

The feature “Bringing Terabithia to Life” is a fascinating close-up of the computer animation work that went into the creatures of Terabithia, not least because it allowed the viewer to actually take a closer look at them than was offered in the movie. It also gave a good overview of the original conceptual sketches. The second feature “Behind the Book” lagged in some of the brief interviews with various fans and authorities in the genre of children’s literature. I would have really wanted to see much more of the interview with the book’s author, Katherine Paterson. Her insights and comments would have been several times more authoritative and worthwhile, and rightfully have formed the major portion of this feature.

“The Bridge to Terabithia” will be availble June 19th, and may be pre-ordered from Amazon.com.

Sgt Mom is a freelance writer living in San Antonio, who blogs at The Daily Brief. More of her own writing is at www.celiahayes.com.

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