Building Entertainment: The Animated Films of the Walt Disney Studio. Live-action edition. Tuck Everlasting

Welcome to my weekly discussion of the animated films of the Walt Disney Studio. I’m proceeding mostly chronologically. The title comes from a quote from Walt, “I never called my work an ‘art’ It’s part of show business, the business of building entertainment.”

Title: Tuck Everlasting

Year: 2002

Source materials : Tuck Everlasting the 1975 novel by Natalie Babbitt

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Budget: $15 million

Box office: $19.3 million

Plot: 15-year-old Winnie (Winifred) Foster is from an upper-class family in the town of Treegap, and wants to make her own choices in life in 1914. After being told that she is going to a boarding school, she runs off into the forest where she meets Jesse Tuck drinking from a spring at the foot of a great tree. She is kidnapped by his older brother Miles and brought back to the Tucks’ home where they tell her they will return her as soon as they can trust her.

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She becomes enamored with their slow and simple way of life and falls in love with Jesse. She learns that the Tucks cannot age or be injured due to drinking water from a magic spring around a hundred years ago and that they kidnapped her to hide the secret. This drinking water is the fountain of youth and makes the Tucks immortal. They tell her that living forever is more painful than it sounds and believe that giving away the secret of the spring will lead to everyone wanting to drink from it and they are worried it might go in the wrong hands.

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A man in a yellow suit befriends the Fosters while Winnie is gone. He spies on the Tucks and he desires the spring to sell the water. He makes a deal to save Winnie and get the forest. He goes to the Tucks and orders them to reveal where the spring is; when they deny any knowledge about the spring he threatens Winnie with a pistol. He calls their bluff by shooting Jesse and exposing his youth; but in return Jesse’s mother, Mae, kills him with the rear end of a rifle. The constable arrests Mae and Angus. Mae is sentenced to be hanged for murdering the man.

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After being returned home, Winnie is woken by Jesse who begs her to help him free his parents. The family fears that if Mae will be hanged the next day, she won’t die and their immortality will be exposed to the public. Winnie helps Jesse and Miles to break the Tucks out of jail and say goodbye to them. Jesse, who has fallen in love with Winnie, asks her to join them, but Angus warns her that it is dangerous to go with them as they will be hunted. Jesse tells Winnie to drink from the spring so she could live forever and never age, then he will come back for her when everything is safe. He leaves promising to love her until the day he dies. After the Tucks depart, Winnie chooses not to drink the water as Angus warned her that being immortal is far worse than living life and that she should not fear death.

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85 years later, Jesse returns to Treegap, which has now become a modern day town. He goes into the woods and at the base of the great tree he finds Winnie’s headstone marking the site of where the spring once stood. The stone reads that Winnie became a wife and mother before passing away at 100 years of age. Jesse sits at her grave, smiling through his tears and remembering her.

Background: Filming for Tuck Everlasting took place in Maryland, specifically in Baltimore, Bel Air and Berlin.

Changes from the Source Material: Winnie is ten years old in the novel.

Cast:

Alexis Bledel as Winnie Foster. She is best known for playing Rory on Gilmore Girls. She has also appeared in Sin City, Post Grad, The Conspirator, and as Lena Kaligaris in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants film series. Since 2017, she has appeared in The Handmaid’s Tale. 1 Jonathan Jackson as Jesse Tuck. His first well known character was Lucky Spencer on General Hospital, a role that has won him five Emmy Awards. From 2012–2018, he portrayed Avery Barkley in Nashville.

Sir Ben Kingsley 2 as The Man in the Yellow Suit. Kingsley is best known for his starring role as Mohandas Gandhi in Gandhi, for which he won the Academy Award for Best Actor. He also appeared in Schindler’s List, Twelfth Night, Sexy Beast, House of Sand and Fog, Lucky Number Slevin, Shutter Island, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, Hugo, The Dictator, and Iron Man 3. He has also voiced Snatcher in The Boxtrolls, and Bagherra in the live action adaptation of Disney’s The Jungle Book.  William Hurt as Angus Tuck. Hurt made his film debut in Altered States. He has also appeared in Body Heat, Gorky Park, Kiss of the Spider Woman, 3 Children of a Lesser God, Broadcast News, Frank Herbert’s Dune, A History of Violence, A.I. Artificial Intelligence, The Village, Syriana, The Good Shepherd, Mr. Brooks, Into the Wild, Robin Hood, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe films The Incredible Hulk, Captain America: Civil War, Avengers: Infinity War, Avengers: Endgame, and Black Widow in which he portrays Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross.

Sissy Spacek as Mae Tuck. She rose to prominence with her portrayal of Carrie White in Carrie, for which she received her first nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actress. She also appeared in Badlands, Welcome to L.A., 3 Women, Coal Miner’s Daughter, 4 Missing, The River, Crimes of the Heart, In the Bedroom, Raggedy Man, JFK, Affliction, The Straight Story, Nine Lives, North Country, Four Christmases, Get Low, The Help, and The Old Man & the Gun.
Amy Irving as Mrs. Foster. She made her feature film debut in Carrie, followed by The Fury, Yentl, Deconstructing Harry, The Rage: Carrie 2, Traffic, Thirteen Conversations About One Thing, Adam and Unsane.

Victor Garber as Robert Foster. On stage he originated the roles of Anthony Hope in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, John Wilkes Booth in Assassins, and Max in Lend Me a Tenor. On film he is known for playing Thomas Andrews in Titanic and Ken Taylor, Canadian Ambassador to Iran, in Argo. On television he played Jack Bristow in Alias and Dr. Martin Stein on Legends of Tomorrow, The Flash and Vixen.  Julia Hart as Sally Hannaway. She is a screenwriter and film director, known for her work on Miss Stevens, Fast Color, and the upcoming Stargirl for Disney+

Scott Bairstow 5 played Miles Tuck. Elisabeth Shue is the Narrator

Critical Reception:

  • Richard Roper: “A successful merger of the whimsical and the weird.”
  • Joel Seigel gave it a B+. “Tuck Everlasting is a beautifully told fable with a kind of Halloween twist.”

My take: It’s a well-made film, with a strong cast. Bledel and Jackson are fine in the roles, and the film takes advantage of the natural setting.

Available on Disney +?: yes

Next Week: Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl