Imagination and Heart
Tuck Everlasting, the imaginative children’s book by Natalie Babbitt, has entertained thousands of readers in the past and should find a new audience with this heartwarming movie adaptation. Screenwriters James V. Hart and Jeffrey Lieber expertly parlay the mystery of the book onto the screen. Set in a surreal and beautiful world created by photographer James L. Carter, production designer Tony Burrough and costumer Carol Ramsey, the story captivated me from the very first moment.
Winnie Foster (Alexis Bledel) is a wealthy young girl in a small early-century town. Her high-buttoned dresses are not as stifling as the domination of her mother, but underneath Winnie’s Victorian laces lies a heart of courage. She finally steps outside her home’s prison-like fence to explore the green forests that her family owns but has never investigated. There she discovers Jesse (Jonathan Jackson), a young boy her age, drinking from a pond beneath a tree.
Winnie senses something different about Jesse and his older brother, Miles (Scott Bairstow), who whisks her away on his horse to the family cottage hidden in the forest. When Winnie meets Angus (William Hurt) and Mae (Sissy Spacek) Tuck, she discovers they carry the same mystique as their sons. Mae assures Winnie that she hasn’t really been kidnapped, but she just can’t return home as yet.
Within days, Winnie finds herself roaming the hillsides with Jesse and falling in love with life and with him. Besotted with the beauty he has found, Jesse stays grounded only by the omen of danger from the Man in the Yellow Suit (Sir Ben Kingsley), a mysterious individual who stalks them.
Kingsley, who has played everything from a psychotic in Sexy Beast to his Oscar-winning performance in Gandhi, seems an unlikely candidate for a children’s story. "Every great, lasting children’s myth contains a dark side and a light side . . . two faces constantly struggling for our souls," he explained.
Producer Jane Startz said about Kingsley’s casting, "Sir Ben Kingsley has the intrigue necessary for a character that is so mysterious that he doesn’t even have a name."
Hurt and Spacek bring a rainbow of talent to their roles. They endow Mae and Angus with just the right amount of pathos and foresight.
Both of the young leads are scene-stealers. Alexis Bledel, the first girl auditioned for the role of Winnie, makes her feature film debut here. She recently landed a part in TV’s Gilmore Girls. Bledel quickly wrapped me around her little finger as she rummaged through her coming-of-age problems and tried to decide whether to stay as she is – or follow the path of the Tucks. Even Angus’s warning, "We are like rocks stuck at the bottom of the stream," takes time for her to comprehend.
Equally riveting as Jesse, Jonathan Jackson has a fresh face that transcends time. Having appeared in daytime soap operas since he was nine years old (and winning many awards for this work), Jackson had plenty of opportunity to learn the skills needed for playing emotional roles.
If there’s one film your family should see this year, it’s Tuck Everlasting – a warm and poetic movie that teaches kids about death and more importantly, about living.
(Released by Walt Disney Pictures and rated "PG" for some violence.)