‘Bridge to Terabithia’: How One Death Changed Disney

For our first Time Warp Tuesday, where we cover older movies that have changed the film industry, we review ‘Bridge to Terabithia’.

By Anthony Peyton, Edited by Olivia Norwood

In February of 2007, Walt Disney Pictures released ‘Bridge to Terabithia’. This was quite different from most of the children’s movies that Disney had made at the time. It was, in fact, their first live action film where a lead character under the age of 18 dies.

In this one, 13 year old Leslie (AnnaSophia Robb) attempts to swing on a rope over a stream, falls, hits her head, and dies on impact. This only occurs in the story after persuading the audience to form a bond with Leslie, as she has an imagination one only wishes they could obtain. He further influences us to adore her as she gradually brings the main character, Jess (Josh Hutcherson), out of what seemed like a never ending but still growing depression.

This was all intentional from the mind of both director Gábor Csupó (‘The Rugrats’, ‘The Simpsons’) and Katherine Paterson (author of the book preceding the film) as they wanted to show – in a tragic way – how to open your mind to seeing the loss of Leslie as something much more.

Disney is no stranger to developing deaths that would later have meaning. There was ‘Bambi’, ‘The Brave Little Toaster’, and ‘The Lion King’.

Too soon Mufasa, too soon.

‘Bridge to Terabithia’ showed a side to Disney that it had never really touched. It was sensitive and they didn’t know how a child’s death would be received among critics. Fortunately for them, it did wonderful with a certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes and a score of 85%. As Jennie Punter of Globe and Mail stated, “It’s the sort of movie I admire more in retrospect than I did while watching it.”

Punter had a very valid point that not everyone sees. A friend of mine, after watching the film for the first time just a week ago, said as the credits begun rolling, “I didn’t like it. It was just sad. It was happy the entire way and then they killed her, which there was no reason for them to do.” I understood at first, but it was easy to recognize why the author wrote her death in the first place and why the director stuck true to it.

Death is always seen as a tragic event and that, of course, is true. In film, however, death can be a symbol of something much bigger. ‘Bridge to Terabithia’ successfully opened the imagination of children and teaching them to use it to help mourn after a loss. That isn’t a tragedy, that is called a victory.

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