One lives in Kentucky, the other in Denver, but at the celluloid moment, Josh Hutcherson and AnnaSophia Robb are living the Hollywood dream.
In town recently to talk about Disney and Walden Media's fantasy-rich “Bridge to Terabithia,” the film's talented young stars happily delve into a myriad issues, from being teenage actors in Tinseltown-he's 14, she's 13-to the movie's emotional undertones.
“It's just such a great story,” the floppy-haired Hutcherson admits.
“There were a lot of things I loved about the script,” Robb says. “It's about friendship, how to be a good friend and how to really try to be accepting of people.”
It's also about something deeper.
“Like loving who you are,” Robb explains, “and that kids shouldn't be afraid of their imagination; that they shouldn't hide it because it makes you an individual.”
Based on the revered children's book of the same name, penned by Katherine Paterson in the late-'70s, the film version was produced and co-written by Paterson's son, David. Much like the book, the big-screen version chronicles the unique bond that takes place between Hutcherson and Robb's characters, Jess and Leslie. Each challenged by different adolescent dramas, the two use the woods behind their rural homes as a sort of latter-day “play time,” a safe place where they're able to invent a mysterious universe known only to them-Terabithia.
Real emotions in an imaginary kindom
It's not the Ritz, but it does have its perks.
In Terabithia, the kids have a “tree house” haven. They can take on a giant troll, some hairy vultures and several other curious flying creatures in the imaginary kingdom.
Cathartic, yes, but it allows the duo to build the emotional muscles needed to handle some of their real world dilemmas.
“I think the book has respect for kids but it also says, 'there is no answer,' says David Paterson. “The book shows kids dealing with real emotions on their own because that's what we do every day. We don't have a guardian to protect us from everything bad, to protect us from bullies, to protect us from our own issues of self worth.”
Those universal emotions resonate with both adults and kids, he says. It was one of the main reasons he wanted to bring his mother's acclaimed novel to the screen, something that took 17 years to accomplish.
“People finally started to respect children,” Patterson says of the lapse in time from page to multiplex. “As crazy as that sounds … but Walden Media was the first film company whose sole objective was to honor the original source material, not only by safely adapting it to the screen but it also promoted reading. Hollywood isn't that crazy about promoting reading, but Walden does that. Basically, I had to wait until people started making movies that respected kids.”
As for the kids who actually star in the film, Hutcherson and Robb appear to be two of the most grounded “stars” shining above the Hollywood landscape.
“I don't really want that Hollywood lifestyle,” says Robb, last seen in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” She stars opposite Charlize Theron in the upcoming supernatural thriller, “The Reaper.”
“I loveto act,” she adds. “I love to go into L.A., but I would never want to go to a party every night and I wouldn't want to live there because it's so much 'the business.' I just love being able to go back home in Denver, go to school and do the geography project.”
Hutcherson, who appeared in “RV” last year and also had a role in “Zathura,” isn't worried about falling prey to the “party scene.”
“I live in Union, Kentucky,” he says with a laugh. “I mean, I am sure there are hoedowns down there, but no big parties I would be exposed to at a young age.”
‘Bridge’ over troubled water
Forget the effects-heavy trailers that make “Bridge to Terabithia” look like the second coming of “Narnia.” Based on the Newbery Award-winning classic by Katherine Paterson, “Rugrats” creator Gabor Csupo’s first foray into live-action fantasy is a satisfying work of imagination, with seamless digital animation that complements Paterson’s story without ever distracting from it.
Equally important, the very human tragedy at the heart of Paterson’s coming-of-age tale remains uncompromised. Adapted for the screen by Jeff Stockwell (“The Secret Lives of Altar Boys”) and the author’s son, David, “Bridge to Terabithia” is mercifully faithful to its source.
It is the story of the bond forged between 10-year-old misfit Jess (Josh Hutcherson) and Leslie (AnnaSophia Robb, in a particularly fine turn), a buoyant free spirit who has just moved in next door. Jess is a tender sort with a bountiful imagination and artistic temperament, making him something of a pariah in school and at home, where he struggles to connect with his no-nonsense father (Robert Patrick).
He has no trouble connecting with Leslie, though. Together, they venture into the nearby forest and create for themselves the kingdom of Terabithia, a magical retreat from reality that provides a haven from the bullies, parents and kid sisters of the world.
Although Paterson’s book left the wondrous possibilities of Terabithia largely to the imagination, Csupo’s film brings them to life in dazzling fashion, with gracefully rendered animation provided by Weta Digital, the same company that visualized Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy.
The forest kingdom is the kind of place where treehouses become palaces, and squirrels morph into rodents of unusual size. Yet for all the technical wizardry, the principal elements of Paterson’s story are never lost in the process. “Bridge to Terabithia” is still the story of a boy and a girl whose kindred-souls friendship and rich flights of fancy become their greatest sources of pleasure.
As in the novel, there is heartbreak at the conclusion of Csupo’s fantasy, lending it the
dramatic weight evident in some of the finest children’s fables, including movies such as “Pan’s Labyrinth” and “The Man in the Moon.” When it arrives, it is wrenching, but true to the tone of the material, which is achingly lovely in its way but also dark and foreboding.
“Bridge to Terabithia” isn’t perfect — it is, at times, just a bit too cute — but it remains a powerfully moving tale of innocence realized and suddenly, senselessly, lost. -Rossiter Drake
Starring Josh Hutcherson, AnnaSophia Robb, Zooey Deschanel, Robert Patrick, Bailee Madison
Written by Jeff Stockwell and David Paterson, based on the book by Katherine Paterson
Directed by Gabor Csupo
Running time 1 hour, 35 minutes
Find show times for “Bridge to Terabithia” at your local movie theater in our City Guide.