The film is based on the Katherine Paterson novel of the same name, and distributed by Walt Disney Pictures in the US. It stars Josh Hutcherson, AnnaSophia Robb, Robert Patrick, Bailee Madison, and Zooey Deschanel. It tells the story of Jess Aarons and Leslie Burke, twelve-year-old neighbors who create a fantasy world called Terabithia and spend their free time together in an abandoned tree house.
Screenwriter David Paterson is Katherine Paterson's son, and the novel is based on parts of his childhood. When he asked his mother if he could write a screenplay of the novel, she agreed because of his ability as a playwright. Production began in February 2006, and the film was finished by November. Principal photography was shot in Auckland, New Zealand within sixty days. Film editing took ten weeks, while post-production, music mixing, and visual effects took several months.
The film was released theatrically in the U.S. and Canada on February 16, 2007. It was a financial success, and with a budget of around $20 million, it had a worldwide gross of US$137 million. It received positive reviews; critics called it a faithful adaption of the children's novel, and found dynamic visuals and natural performances further enhanced the imaginative film. It was nominated for seven awards, winning five at the Young Artist Awards.
Jess Aarons (Josh Hutcherson) is a fifth grader aspiring artist living with his financially struggling family in Lark Creek. He rides the bus to school with his little sister, May Belle (Bailee Madison), where he avoids the school bully, Janice Avery (Lauren Clinton). In class, Jess is teased by classmates Scott Hoager (Cameron Wakefield) and Gary Fulcher (Elliot Lawless), and meets a new student his age named Leslie Burke (AnnaSophia Robb). At recess, he enters a running event, for which he had been training at home. Leslie also enters and manages to beat all the boys, much to his irritation. On the way home, he and Leslie learn that they are next-door neighbors.
Later in the evening, Jess becomes frustrated when he finds that May Belle has drawn in his notebook, but his strict father, Jack (Robert Patrick), sides with her. The next day at school, Leslie compliments his drawing ability after seeing his notebook, and they soon become the best of friends. After school, they venture into the woods and swing across a creek on a rope. They find an abandoned tree house and a broken down truck on the other side, and invent a new world, which they call Terabithia. The fantasy world, which is a reflection on their lives, comes to life through their eyes as they explore the surroundings. For the next few days, They spend their free time in the tree house getting to know each other.
Leslie gives Jess an art kit for his birthday, much to his delight. Later, he gives her a puppy, whom she decides to name Prince Terrien (P.T.). Once in Terabithia, they fight with various creatures, including a troll resembling Janice. At school, May Belle shows her friend, Alexandra, what she got in her snack, which is Twinkies. Jess tells her that she should not brag about them. At recess, May Belle screams towards Jess and Leslie saying that Janice stole them. Leslie becomes frustrated by Janice's fee for entering the bathroom. Jess and Leslie play a prank on her, and she becomes the laughing stock of everyone on the bus. Once Leslie's parents finish writing their book, she and Jess help paint their house. Jess is impressed by her parents' happiness, and smiles as he watches their family. At school on Friday, Leslie hears Janice crying in the bathroom. After Leslie talks with her, she discovers that the reason why Janice is a bully is because she is abused by her father, and they become friends. Jess and Leslie take P.T. to Terabithia, where they fight off several creatures resembling students at their school. They decide to go home when it starts raining and the creek gets higher than ever, and he smiles as she runs back to her house, realizing that he has fallen in love with her.
The next morning, Ms. Edmunds (Zooey Deschanel), Jess' music teacher, calls to invite him on a one-on-one field trip to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.. He tries to ask his mother's permission, however, she is half-asleep and he takes her mumbling as approval. He does not ask Leslie to accompany him, and merely looks at her house as they drive by. When he returns home, he finds that his parents are worried sick because they did not know where he was. Jack tells him that Leslie drowned in the river that morning when he went to the museum. He is deeply grieved, and visits the Burkes' house with his parents to pay their respects. Leslie's father, Bill Burke (Latham Gaines), tells him that she loved him, and thanks him for being such a good friend to her, since she had trouble making friends at her old school. He feels overwhelming guilt for her death, but Jack consoles him to keep their lasting friendship alive for her sake. he decides to reimagine Terabithia and builds a bridge across the river to welcome a new ruler. He invites May Belle to enter Terabithia; she is delighted because she was previously denied any opportunity to enter. She and Jess bring back Terabithia in even greater splendor, with Jess as king and his sister as the new queen.
- Josh Hutcherson as Jess Aarons
- AnnaSophia Robb as Leslie Burke
- Bailee Madison as May Belle Aarons
- Lauren Clinton as Janice Avery
- Cameron Wakefield as Scott Hoager
- Elliot Lawless as Gary Fulcher
- Isabelle Kircher as Carla
- Carly Owen as Madison
- Robert Patrick as Jack Aarons
- Kate Butler as Nancy Aarons
- Latham Gaines as Bill Burke
- Judy McIntosh as Judy Burke
- Zooey Deschanel as Ms. Edmunds
- Patricia Aldersley as Grandma Burke (on Leslie's funeral)
- Jen Wolfe as Mrs. Myers
- James Gaylayn as Principal Turner
- Ian Harcourt as Kenny (bus driver)
- Devon Wood as Brenda Aarons
- Emma Fenton as Ellie Aarons
- Grace Brannigan as Joyce Aarons
Differences from the Book
The book has several noticeable differences from the theatrical film; commonly noticed ones are Leslie's appearance and the switch of roles at certain parts of the story.
- Jess waves to Janice when he gets off the bus, in the film it's Leslie.
- Jess' parents are wary about him hanging around with a girl, in the film his mother is pleased.
- Leslie introduces herself to Jess at the fence between their homes before school starts. In the film, they first meet when she is placed in his class.
- Jess goes to the grove of pines (not present in the film) with a wreath, instead of making a boat like in the film.
- In the book Jess has trouble figuring out Leslie's gender on their first meeting, in the film she is clearly a girl.
- In the book Leslie's character is an agnostic atheist where as in the film she just lacks Jess's Christian beliefs.
- In the book, Jess receives the toy race car playset for Christmas. In the movie, he receives it for his birthday. In the commentary, it was stated that the crew was working with different seasons and they couldn't use the original story.
- In the film she is a slightly different character and thus handles situations differently. She runs away when Jess confronts her after she tells the class she has no television, while in the film she withdraws it all. In the book there are different instances where she raises her voice or pulled stern looks, in the film there is none.
- Leslie's hair is brown and Jesse's is blond in the book, but in the movie it's the other way round.
- Leslie refers to her parents by their first names, rather than as "Mother" and "Father" (as part of their new-age upbringing). Also, they come across as hippies. In the movie, this plot element is lost.