- The Washington Times - Friday, October 11, 2002

"Tuck Everlasting" may not be a movie for the ages, but it allows Disney to catch up in a modestly appealing way with one of the likeliest of titles in a genre that it probably should monopolize: supernatural-inspirational Americana.

Natalie Babbitt's novel has become a fixture of elementary school reading lists over the past generation. A variation on "Peter Pan," it takes a lonely, adventure-prone girl named Winnie Foster (Alexis Bledel of "Gilmore Girls"), hemmed in by wealthy but overprotective parents in a small-town mansion in upstate New York, and confronts her with the prospect of romance and immortality.

She ventures into a surrounding forest and discovers the secluded homestead of a family named Tuck (William Hurt as father Angus, Sissy Spacek as mother Mae and Scott Bairstow and Jonathan Jackson as sons Miles and Jesse, respectively).

Romance promptly blossoms with Jesse. Mrs. Tuck, starved for the company of womenfolk, seems inclined to adopt Winnie on the spot. A cloud of melancholy hovers over Miles, who has experienced grave losses in the past while trying to reconcile his condition with a normal life.

It falls to Angus to clarify their situation for the winsome visitor. He rows Winnie to the middle of a lake and explains how the Tucks came to be immortal after drinking from a magical spring beneath an ancient oak tree.

He doesn't want the girl to underestimate the heavy burden that an ageless, eternal existence can impose. Mr. Hurt does heartfelt justice to Angus' words to live by: "Don't be afraid of death; be afraid of the unlived life."

The Tucks are compelled to live a semifugitive life, guarding the secret of the spring against the threat of a stampede to their backwoods haven by folks craving an authentic fountain of youth. They are stalked by a sinister figure played by Ben Kingsley, sort of adapting his "Sexy Beast" role to a less profane and depraved context.

Simultaneously, Winnie's parents (Victor Garber and an extremely starchy Amy Irving) have subsidized a posse to search for the missing girl. The story is set in 1914, but it takes an epilogue in the present to resolve one of the lingering questions about Winnie's sojourn with the Tucks.

Mr. Jackson and Miss Bledel make a very photogenic match of a sort you don't associate for a moment with permanence, so the casting seems at once fetching in box-office terms and properly disillusioning in thematic terms, a tricky balancing act.

Berlin, Md., which provided a modern setting for "Runaway Bride," simulates a small town of the early 20th century for director Jay Russell and his collaborators. Susquehanna State Park near Havre de Grace, Md., supplied the Tuck forest. Admirers of the book and the movie in this part of the country should find it relatively easy to organize a "Tuck Everlasting" field trip.


TITLE: "Tuck Everlasting"

RATING: PG (Occasional ominous episodes; fleeting graphic violence)

CREDITS: Directed by Jay Russell. Screenplay by Jeffrey Lieber and James V. Hart, based on the novel by Natalie Babbitt.

RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes


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