Bridge to Terabithia is a novel by Katherine Paterson, and there are two film adaptations (a 1985 Made-for-TV Movie by the PBS and a 2007 theatrical film produced by Walden Media).Jesse, the main character, is a young boy who lives in a small rural town. He practices running during the summer because he wants to be the fastest runner in his grade at school. A girl named Leslie moves in next door to Jesse and starts winning all the races; despite this, the two become best friends. They decide to find a place just for them in nearby woods, and spend many hours there, enjoying games of make-believe in their "kingdom" of Terabithia.The story has a Bittersweet Ending. It has been banned on more than one occasion for Teacher/Student Romancesubtext and other non-existent sexual contentnote Jesse has a crush on one of his teachers, something everyone who's reached the age of 12 can probably relate to. She invites him to the museum, and insists on paying on the grounds that she's a liberated woman and invited him (and, more practically, she's a teacher and can afford it better). That's literally as far as it goes — there's zero evidence that said teacher has any inappropriate feelings or is aware of his crush. Once more, she invited Jesse and Leslie. as well as religious content and some swearing.
Academic Athlete: Jess thinks highly of Leslie Burke because she beat all the fifth grade boys in their race and she can impress teachers with her imaginative essays and ability to appear focused in class.
Adaptation Distillation: In the film, the setting is changed to the present day, so there's less focus on Jesse wanting to be an artist, which was the main conflict between him and his father in the book. It also doesn't make a big deal about Leslie being a Tomboy.
The idea that a cheerful, friendly, imaginative and full of life child suddenly dies in a freak, senseless accident (best swimmer in a class drowning in creek shallow enough to walk through) is utterly terrifying to parents, especially since said child did nothing to deserve death.
Another terrifying point is that the whole is Based on a True Story. It was a lightning strike in reality, making it even more tragic. One minute that little girl is happily playing on a beach, the next there is a corpse...
Alpha Bitch: Kind of subverted. Janice Avery is a female bully, but she's anything but the stereotypical blonde rich girl who relies on social manipulation. Instead, Janice is apparently rather unattractive and relies on physical intimidation, usually the realm of male bullies. She has a Freudian Excuse.
Creator Breakdown: The Bittersweet Ending is inspired by a real life event that happened to the author's son. That same son would become the producer and co-writer for the 2007 film.
In a 2009 radio interview, Paterson recalled that it took weeks to summon up the courage to write the ending, to kill off the girl she had brought back to life.
Does Not Like Shoes: In the novel, Jesse and Leslie both went barefoot (as is seen on the cover) partly because all the shoes they got were hand me downs and also it was not at all uncommon for kids in the 1970s to go barefoot, especially in the country. Averted in the 2007 film.
First Love: In this Tearjerker of a novel, this trope is subtly implied with the friendship between Jess and his friend Leslie, a girl who introduces him to the titular Terabithia, and this variety of the "special, sweet, innocent" type of first love, on both Jess and Leslie's parts.
Foreshadowing: There was a scene in the film where the camera focuses on Jesse's arm becoming robotic and Jesse punching a Squoager. Near the last half of the film, Jesse confronts the Squoager's real life counterpart and punches him. Complete with the camera focusing on the arm, as if Jesse was pretending that it would become robotic.
There's also lots of shots of the water rising and the rope close to breaking.
At one point Jess is afraid Terrien (the dog) may fall down during crossing and drown. if only it were the dog, like in many other books...
Leslie's essay is entitled "Self-contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus", depicts her fictional life as a scuba-diver, and the last few lines talk about how wonderful life is because of how short it is. All foreshadowing her untimely death, as if she knew the whole time.
Pretty blatantly at the Easter service, when May Belle asks Leslie "But what if you die, Leslie? What if you die?"
It's All My Fault: Jesse doesn't invite Leslie to the museum in order to have some alone time with Ms. Edmunds; Leslie dies crossing the rope swing to Terabithia alone the same day.
Jerk Jock: Gary Fulcher, who in the 2007 film is split into two characters - himself and Scott Hoager. The latter seems to take the primary antagonistic role in the film.
Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Jesse's father, Jack Aarons (Jesse Snr. in the novel). He is very strict towards his son and can seem as rather harsh at times, but it's understandable given the family's level of poverty. He's also shown to be a good parent in spite of it all, and the scene where he comforts his son after Leslie's death is one of the more poignant moments, especially in the film.
Longing For Fiction Land: The main two characters create a fictional world called Terabithia to deal with their school troubles. They are aware that it is a fantasy and wish it were real, although this doesn't stop them for having fun.
Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Leslie fits the character type in that she's full of quirks, dresses oddly, as well as livening up Jess's world, though it's downplayed in that fact that the two do not get romantically involved.
Funnily enough, the film casts MPDG queen Zooey Deschanel as Ms. Edmunds. The character she plays is one of her few roles not of this type. She comes off that way to Jesse, though, compared with the other adults in his life, hence his infatuation with her.
Middle Child Syndrome: Jess gets a pretty bad deal out of this trope, since he's not only the very-middle child out of five, he's also the only boy. Not to mention his older sisters bully him, Maybelle worships him and the youngest daughter is a particularly bratty baby. Oh, and he's a "Well Done, Son" Guy to boot.
Mistaken for Gay: One of the plot points, and conflict between Jesse and his dad, revolved around this trope. Set in the 70s, Jesse was into art and only had a girl for a friend, so his parents were quite uncomfortable with him spending so much time with Leslie.
The Namesake: The title "bridge" finally appears in the last chapter, when Jesse builds it.
Name's the Same: There is an island in The Chronicles of Narnia called Terebinthia; the author read the books as a child but asserts the connection was unconscious. And also points out that C.S. Lewis probably took the name of said island from the terebinth tree, which is often mentioned in The Bible.
The fact that the kids constantly reference the Narnia books for inspiration in creating their own kingdom renders this argument moot.
Never Trust a Trailer: Quite possibly the most baffling case in the history of cinema. The trailer for the 2007 film made it seem like a Narnia-esque fantasy movie where Terabithia was real. Apparently, the filmmakers were none too pleased with the way the movie was marketed, either. Especially since the key screenwriter was David Paterson, the son of the original author and on who Jesse is based. This also led to confusion with fans who hadn't read the book, as they watched the movie waiting for Terabithia to 'become real' only to realize it doesn't.
Outdoorsy Gal: Leslie invites Jess to swing over the riverbed to discover the land of Terabithia.
Raven Hair, Ivory Skin: There's the music teacher Miss Edmunds who is described as having long swishy black hair and blue, blue eyes. Lord, she was gorgeous.
Reality Is Unrealistic: The real-life inspiration for Leslie was Katherine Paterson's son's childhood friend, Lisa Hill who was killed by a lightning strike while climbing some rocks on a beach. The author originally intended to finish off Leslie the same way but ultimately changed it to a drowning because she felt it would be more believable. Probably right, but ironic.
Reasonable Authority Figure: In the film when Jess punches a kid taunting him, the teacher talks to him about grieving the loss of a loved one when it appears he's about to be punished.
A similar thing happens in the book, only instead of punching a kid, Jesse didn't stand for the national anthem.
Write Who You Know: An interesting variant in the 2007 film, in that Jess and Leslie base the creatures and inhabitants of their imaginary world off of people they know. In particular, the Squoagers and Hairy Vultures are monsters based off the bullies Scott Hoager and Gary Fulcher and even resemble them to a degree. The troll is based off Janice Avery, and does a Heel-Face Turn after Leslie comforts her, while the Dark Master is based off Jess's father, and disappears at the end, when the two of them finally understand one another. The wish-fulfillment of this arguably helps them both - but Jess in particular - to grow stronger in Real Life as well.
In the more traditional Meta sense, the characters and story are based off events and people from Katherine Paterson's own life - Jesse off her son David, Leslie off his best friend Lisa Hill, etc., and Jesse's loneliness reflects Paterson's own inability to fit in at school with others. Plus the poverty of the situation during the Seventies post the Vietnam War era. And the religious connotations off her own upbringing, since she learned from her father (a missionary who often travelled as part of his duties).