Disney has always been hit-or-miss when bringing beloved kids' books to the screen, and the studio's latest -- an adaptation of Natalie Babbit's "Tuck Everlasting" -- is a little of both.
It's an early 20th Century story of a curious, affluent teenage girl, stifled by her stiff-upper-lip period parents, who gets lost while seeking an afternoon of freedom in the deep woods behind her estate and meets an enticing young man with a mystical secret -- drinking from a nearby spring has made him and his whole family immortal.
Afraid of being discovered by the outside world that would covet what they've come to consider a curse, the Tuck clan feels they cannot let the young lady go home, even as the area is scoured by search parties. But before long Winnie (Alexis Bledel) isn't exactly aching to leave, having come to know both freedom and romance with the handsome, worldly Jesse (Jonathan Jackson).
Directed by Jay Russell, who deftly navigated the trappings of a 1950s coming-of-age story in "My Dog Skip," this film is a similarly warm, spirited and fairly entertaining family fare. But while its charms are many and it may strike a chord with fans of the book, "Tuck" doesn't have the makings of an "everlasting" classic, mostly because it has more trappings of the era in which it was made than of the era it depicts.
The beautiful Bledel, who is wonderfully natural and winsome as astutely droll teenager Rory Gilmore on TV's "The Gilmore Girls," makes an appealing heroine and she has the porcelain beauty of an aristocratic girl in pre-World War I America -- but not the carriage, cadence or demeanor. Jackson's not a bad actor either, but he's such an unthreatening, boy-band pretty, teenage heartthrob cliché that he'd look a lot more at home on the bedroom wall of a 21st Century teenager than he does in 1914. There's a genuine but far too modern sensuality to the flirtation between these two as well.
Even more incongruous for a period piece is the nausea-inducing hand-held cinematography used for an immortality- isn't- all- it's- cracked- up- to- be flashback of the tribulations the Tucks' have endured (loved ones lost, witchcraft accusations, etc.). The film is also overloaded with florid narration that renders most of Winnie's emotions explained rather than experienced.
But while "Tuck" fails to prove unforgettable, as Disney clearly intended, that doesn't mean these problems ruin the movie. Despite her somewhat ill fit for the period, Bledel lends Winnie an inviting, adventurous vitality that's hard to resist. Feeling drawn to Jesse and emancipated from her looming departure for finishing school, it's easy to shrug off questions about why she'd stay with the Tucks even though she knows her family is searching the woods for her.
What's harder to understand is why, when the townspeople start closing in, the Tuck parents (William Hurt and Sissy Spacek) don't send her packing to protect the themselves and the spring. By this time they know she'd keep their secret.
But then there wouldn't be much of a story, would there? And there would be no introduction for the Man in the Yellow Suit, an unscrupulous tracker who has been hunting for the Tucks and their spring for years, hoping to turn a profit by selling eternal youth. Played by Ben Kingsley as a country gentleman exuding serpent-like menace, he has followed Jesse and his sourpuss brother Miles (Scott Bairstow) from their recent trip to Europe, and arrived in town just in time to exploit Winnie's disappearance for his own ends.
"Tuck Everlasting" gets by on the enchantment factor and good chemistry between Bledel and Jackson as their characters fall in love, knowing Winnie will eventually have to make a choice about what her future will hold -- and how long her future will be.
Just don't go into this picture expecting the all-ages masterpiece the studio has been touting in trailers and TV commercials, because you won't find it here.
Run time: 90 mins
In Theaters: Friday 11th October 2002
Box Office USA: $19.0M
Distributed by: Buena Vista Pictures
Production compaines: Walt Disney Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 61%
Fresh: 71 Rotten: 46
IMDB: 6.7 / 10
Director: Jay Russell
Starring: Alexis Bledel as Winnie Foster, William Hurt as Angus Tuck, Sissy Spacek as Mae Tuck, Jonathan Jackson as Jesse Tuck, Scott Bairstow as Miles Tuck, Ben Kingsley as Man in the Yellow Suit, Amy Irving as Mother Foster, Victor Garber as Robert Foster
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