Tuck Everlasting (2002) / Drama-Fantasy
MPAA Rated: PG for some violence
Running Time: 88 min.
Cast: Alexis Bledel, Jonathan Jackson, WIlliam Hurt, Sissy Spacek, Ben Kingsley, Scott Bairstow
Director: Jay Russell
Screenplay: Jeffrey Lieber, James V. Hart (based on the book by Natalie Babbitt)
I suppose if the main theme of everlasting life hadn't been such a staple in books and films before this, I probably would have enjoyed Tuck Everlasting a little more than I did. Even the recurring theme of the movie, that everlasting life isn't all it's cracked up to be if people you love are all dying around you, has been done before. However, this is a Disney film, which generally means family fare, and for many members of the family going to see this, it actually might be the first time having to deal with such themes as living forever or becoming part of the cycle of life. As such, Tuck Everlasting makes for a decent introduction, with such gorgeous cinematography and locales, that even adults won't mind being along for the ride, even if the destination is familiar.
The story centers around a fifteen year old girl named Winnie (Bledel, Bride & Prejudice), who longs to see what's beyond the iron fence that surrounds her home. One day she makes a break for it, and spies upon a seventeen year old boy named Jesse Tuck (Jackson, Riding the Bullet), taking a drink from a small spring emanating from a large tree in the middle of the forest. Jesse forbids her to drink from it, and brother Miles (Bairstow, The Postman) is none too happy with Winnie discovering it, so they take her back to their place where the rest of the Tucks make an effort to convince Winnie to keep their secret before allowing her to return home. It seems that the spring "springs eternal," and one drink preserves the imbiber in the age of the first sip. However, the Tucks don't want anyone else to know about it, as opportunists and evil men might use it to their own advantages, and one such man (Kingsley, Rules of Engagement) is hot on their trail to do just that. Although setting an immortalized Winnie back home would surely draw attention, Jesse takes a fancy to her, and wouldn't mind an eternal love to call his own.
Even with the sumptuous visual aspects of the film, there are a few issues that trouble me. Perhaps they are better explained in the book of the same name from which Tuck Everlasting was adapted, written by Natalie Babbitt. It's been almost 100 years since the Tucks first drank from the spring, and although their physical bodies remain the same, it seems their mental ages are the equivalent as well, with young Jesse still the rambunctious 17 year old he probably was the day before he was immortal. The Tucks still drink liberally from the spring, yet apparently do not need to, as one drink instantly renders you unable to be killed or even harmed. However, they curiously choose to remain near the site of the spring anyway. One could surmise that they are merely seeking to keep the spring from being discovered, because they do not want anyone else to know about it, but they could easily have tried to destroy the spring if that's the case. Well, perhaps the tree is just like them, immortal and unable to fall to harm, but no evidence of this exists, and in fact, the Tucks were able to "damage" the tree by carving a large "T" into its trunk without much effort. Where the Tucks sought to hide the spring, they are merely beacons to it, and their very existence only draws attention to the fact that something is different about them and their environment. Better to have left altogether from the outset, since they planned on leaving whenever they were discovered anyway.
Such problems of explanation are rather significant, yet somehow they don't really detract much from the film's larger charms, namely the lush forest and landscapes, and the nice casting of the actors. Alexis Bledel in particular impresses in her first major film role, showing happiness, sadness, and fear with realism. Jay Russell continues his string of successful family fare, following his previous film, My Dog Skip, with another charmer, and a film which also features the same composer, William Ross (Ladder 49), with some very good music to accompany the pleasant sights provided by Skip's cinematographer, James L. Carter (ZigZag, One False Move).
Tuck Everlasting is probably a film worth watching with the family, although a well-read adult might not find enough to keep the interest level high in a story that's this predictable. Pre-adolescent children in particular might find it especially appealing, which is also the age range that might typically read Babbitt's original book. This may never go down as a classic family film, and perhaps will be another in a list of Disney's forgotten non-animated features, but while it's on, it's enough to entertain for the moment.
-- Previously made in 1981.
©2002 Vince Leo