Director Jay Russell talks about turning this classic novel into a movie families will love.

By Kenneth M. Chanko
October 05, 2005

Natalie Babbitt's beloved 1975 literary classic about a family that never ages and the girl who stumbles upon their secret hit the big screen. But before fans cringe at the prospect of this sensitive tale being turned into a happy-go-lucky adventure, note that the movie is directed by Jay Russell of the subtle and smart My Dog Skip. A labor of love for the 42-year-old filmmaker (who has a 4-year-old son, Beau), Tuck Everlasting is that rare family movie that neither talks down to kids nor resorts to goofy high jinks. "Natalie Babbitt just saw it and was pleased, which was very important to me," Russell says. "She knew I wouldn't let the theme of the book get lost." Parents are advised to bring only kids ages 7 and up and prepare to talk to them about death as a natural part of life.

Child spoke to Russell about everything from the movie's themes to the state of children's entertainment today.

Child: Your movie explores areas that most family films today would be afraid to touch.

Russell: It's a difficult type of film to get made these days. If it's not a cutting-edge animated movie or a live-action movie with a lot of silly humor, wild chases, and slam-bang action, Hollywood isn't quick to see its merits. But Hollywood has always been a fear-based business. People get scared when they hear the story, and that Winnie chooses not to live forever: 'How awful -- how can we sell that?' But it was the quality and depth of Natalie's writing that made me want to do the movie. While it's considered a book for children, it's really for everyone. It's about the importance of recognizing the cycle of life, and that we're all going to die and that death is a part of life. William Hurt, who plays Angus Tuck, the father, has a great line when he's on the boat talking to Winnie about how rather than being obsessed with and being scared of death, one should really be afraid of the unlived life.

Child: The subject matter is a little more grown-up than in your last family movie, My Dog Skip, even though you didn't sugarcoat things in that movie either.

Russell: Yes, I thought it was important to follow the story through and show that Skip dies of old age. I was harking back to the movies I saw when I was a kid -- they didn't patronize or pander to kids, they were "general audience" movies. I think that today, a lot of entertainment that targets kids is either condescending, doesn't give them credit for being able to think, or sometimes, especially in animated movies and cartoons, is too grown-up. While younger kids can see and appreciate Skip, it's true that Tuck is for older kids. In our tests, 7- and 8-year-olds liked it. It seems to be right around that age when kids start to think about these sorts of things, and then it really hits home for those in the 9 to 12 range. I don't think my 4-year-old would be very interested in it. Not that it would be bad for Beau, it's just that he'd probably be pretty bored by most of it -- even though he's in it briefly. I cast him as a little boy in a flashback scene. I think he's just starting to really understand that Daddy makes movies.

Child: What are some of your and Beau's favorite movies and TV shows?

Russell: He used to like Blue's Clues, which I think is a great preschool show, but he's growing out of it now a little. He watches some things on The Cartoon Network, stuff that doesn't interest me that much. As for movies, he likes Babe and Willy Wonka. Of course I probably influence Beau on some of these. He likes some movies that I thought would be a little old for him, like Big with Tom Hanks. As for me, I really like Carroll Ballard's movies, like The Black Stallion and Fly Away Home. In a couple of years I think he'll get more into those.

Child: What are you doing next?

Russell: It looks like my next project will be another family movie, based on the 1956 film The Brave One, about a boy and the love he has for a bull. There are other possible projects, too. But in making family movies, I always like to think that entire families -- 8-year-olds, 18-year-olds, 38-year-olds, 58-year-olds -- can see them and get engrossed. Especially with Tuck, I think I succeeded.

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