Since Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings films, fantasy has become (predictably) a disappointing genre at the movies.

It’s becoming all too familiar… a director borrows Jackson’s techniques for dazzling audiences, but demonstrates ignorance when it comes to good scripts and character development. Or the filmmakers get so excited about editing their film for maximum excitement that they make mincemeat of their actors’ performances. Pan’s Labyrinth is the most impressive exception, but for the most part, Peter Jackson’s achievements look better and better all the time.

That’s why I’m delighted to discover (rather late, I’m afraid) that Walden Media’s Bridge to Terabithia is one of the better post-Jackson fantasy efforts, and it’s an unexpected delight from a studio that has been consistently disappointing.

The special effects are wonderfully whimsical. And the cast is well-chosen. But the film’s real strength is the story by Katherine Paterson. My compliments to the filmmakers who took the story seriously. The film took me into much deeper waters than I’d anticipated.

I’m inclined to recommend the book, which I’m sure is more rewarding than the film, but for an evening’s entertainment, the DVD is a pleasure. Anne suggested it for last week’s date night, and I thanked her for the idea.

Annasophia Robb is a little too decorated, and a little too charming.¬†But I’d much rather see her become a big star for Terabithia than that unbearable disaster called The Reaping. As the central character, Jesse, Josh Hutcherson dutifully applies himself to some sentimental, touchy-feely scenes, but he’s¬†especially effective in scenes of¬†confrontation with¬†Robert¬†Patrick, who plays Jesse’s temperamental father. The rest of the cast is uniformly impressive, and with the exception of some intrusive, disposable pop songs, there’s none of the pandering that I’ve come to expect from “family films.” I was genuinely moved by the conclusion.

All of this leads me to take interest in the positive buzz going around for The Spiderwick Chronicles. Here’s Brandon Fibbs’ review at CT Movies. And, for a second opinion, here’s Greg Wright, who’s less enthusiastic.

Thanks to Terabithia, I just might have to give this one a chance.

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