Bridge to Terabithia
It's possible that next to family, nothing is as satisfying in this life as good friends, with whom to share love and imagination, escapes from the daily chores of life. Such is the good fortune of Jesse (Josh Hutcherson) in the imaginative and smart Bridge to Terabithia, adapted from Katherine Paterson's Newbury winning book. Here is a film unencumbered by the demands of eye-popping computer graphics, although it has some, but centered on such universal themes as the primacy of charity and the virtues of openness to new experiences.
Jesse is a fifth-grade pariah, who's tortured among his peers for geekiness, namely being a gifted illustrator. He eventually befriends new girl at school, Leslie (a terrific AnnaSophia Robb), and they create a magical forest replete with a giant troll and menacing squirrels.
What distinguishes this film from similar ones such as Heavenly Creatures (decidedly darker) and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is the emphasis on reality as well as imagination. Although the bad kids are straight out of stereotype central casting and Jesse too gloomy throughout, the reality is that things are not going well at home for him, especially with a father who doesn't connect with his son, and a school, where except for a rousing music class, Jesse must suffer the slings of adolescent dunderheads who just don't understand his gifts.
And, not all turns out well, as it doesn't in real life, but enough good happens to give hope that the bridge will always help adolescents move to richer lives of friendship and love.