Directed by: Gabor Csupo
Written by: Jeff Stockwell & David Paterson
Katherine Paterson’s The Bridge to Terabithia is one of those books that always ends up high on the list of novels that censorious administrators love to ban from school libraries. For starters, it has not one but several instances of young people taking the Lord’s name in vain, as well as allusions to paganism, a refusal to stand for the pledge of allegiance, underage smoking, a kid who calls her parents by their first names and a wild, allegorical scene involving the milking of a cow.
So why would Walden Media, with its known Christian agenda (including The Chronicles of Narnia franchise), want to produce a film version? Was it with the best of intentions—to rescue the novel’s touching core story from the book-burners? Unfortunately, it seems more for the purposes of Christianizing an ungodly book. Gone are all of the aforementioned objectionable aspects, and in their place, an expanded evangelizing subtext.
Two bullied young outcasts and new neighbors, Josh Hutcherson & AnnaSophia Robb, form a friendship over their shared creative impulses—Hutcherson is an artist, Robb a writer. Together, they invent a fantasyland in the woods behind their homes where they can escape from their humdrum lives, a magical kingdom they call Terabithia (where, for example, dragonflies are “warriors from the Tree Top Provinces”).
Conflicts that they duo face in Terabithia mirror and inform the conflicts they face in real life, with bullies manifest as giant trolls or flying squirrel monsters. Director Csupo doesn’t let the fantasy overwhelm the reality, and as a result he establishes an intriguing contrast between the wealth of imagination and the poverty of existence. But he relies too heavily on literalizing the kids’ fantasies, showing us Terabithia as it appears through the eyes of the children’s imaginations. For a film that propounds the importance of a healthy and active imagination, it doesn’t trust the audience to have one of their own.
That problem is endemic through the film, particularly in its use of an over-the-top soundtrack, including selections from Disney Radio (Miley Cyrus!), that leaves nothing open to interpretation. But the film's most objectionable aspect is surely its bullying Christianity. Robb is the secular child of fun-loving intellectuals who never goes to church, in contrast to Hutcherson and his family. (A notable contrast to the book, in which Hutcherson’s character’s family only goes to church on Easter, and only then begrudgingly.) So the Hutchersons take her to church one Sunday—first getting the tomboy into a proper dress, of course—where she literally fills her purse with the light of the Lord.
Afterwards, on a truck bed, there’s a frank discussion about religion between the kids, which Robb concludes by declaring, of Christianity, “you have to believe it and you hate it. I don’t, and I love it.” But she doesn’t love it properly, with the proper reverence of belief, and so for the head-in-the-clouds heathenism that she and her parents represent, the girl dies one rainy afternoon. Scared yet, pagans? But don’t worry—the film makes sure to let us know that Robb isn’t going to Hell. God kills little girls, but he’s not a monster. And that’s all the more reason to love Him, in all his merciful grace. Isn't it?
Watch the trailer:
Watch the trailer: