Rated PG - Running Time: 1:28 - Released 10/11/02

The idea of living forever may seem attractive until you ponder all the ramifications of such a fate—watching everyone you know and care about grow old and die, never being able to escape issues like overpopulation, war, and pollution, and having to listen to each successive generation's crappy idea of music. Such things are addressed in Jay Russell's whimsical fantasy Tuck Everlasting, a new Disney Studios interpretation of the 1975 novel by Natalie Babbitt, adapted for the screen by Jeffrey Lieber and James V. Hart. It's a complex idea given a simplistic treatment, but that's not the fault of the filmmakers, who are simply following the childlike tone of Babbitt's novel, which itself was aimed at the pre-teen demographic and is assigned reading in many middle-school classrooms. Simple or not, it's got nice scenery (lensed by cinematographer James L. Carter, who also worked with director Russell on My Dog Skip) and features some not-too-shabby castmembers like Oscar-winners William Hurt, Sissy Spacek, and Ben Kingsley. They're not going to win any awards for their work here, but they certainly do as well as usual.

The real star of this movie, however, is 19-year-old Alexis Bledel (Gilmore Girls), who plays wealthy, pampered, early-20th-century teen Winnifred Foster. Seeing life from behind the iron fence of her stately family home in Treegap, New York, Winnie craves adventure, but is kept strictly in check by her very proper mother (Amy Irving) and father (Victor Garber). But when they tell her she's going to be sent off to boarding school, that's it—she runs away from home, at least figuratively, since she ends up in the wood owned by her father. There she is startled by an attractive young man named Jesse Tuck (Jonathan Jackson), who is drinking water from a spring at the base of a huge tree with a "T" carved in its trunk.

Next thing she knows, Winnie's being kidnapped, taken back to Jesse's country home on horseback by him and his brother Miles (Scott Bairstow), who apparently have some deep, dark family secret that can only be explained by their father Angus (Hurt) and mother Mae (Spacek). It seems that the spring is a "fountain of youth," with the power to stop the aging process and render the drinker immortal, and the Tucks are really hundreds of years old. While she stays at their home, she enjoys life like she never did before and becomes quite fond of them, especially Jesse, who suggests that she drink from the spring and join him in everlasting life. Meanwhile, her worried parents enlist the help of a mysterious man in a yellow suit (Kingsley), who has been following the Tucks for some time and seems to know their secret. He offers to bring Winnie back in exchange for ownership of the wood; however, his real intentions are more sinister, and when he finds her, something happens that threatens to tear the whole town apart.

There is something wistful about this movie; its tone seems as melancholy as its main character. I suppose it could be seen as a gentle way to discuss death with a child, as the pivotal scene involves Angus telling Winnie that living forever is unnatural and more of a sentence than a gift: "What we Tucks have, you can't call living," he says. "We just are, like rocks stuck by the side of the road." But despite its sad feel, and the fact that it drags almost to a standstill in the middle, it's quite beautiful visually and features fine performances by Bledel, Jackson, and the others. ****

Copyright 2002 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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