Rating: PG for some scary moments
Run Time: 1 hour, 28 minutes
Disney jumps into the fall sweepstakes with a dumbly sweet and hyper-clichéd re-telling of Natalie Babbitt’s award-winning novel of the same name.
A slew of Academy Award winners can’t overcome the dim scripting and trite relationships that pepper this coming-of-age fable. An overprotected teenager named Winnie Foster (Alexis Bledel) longs for a life outside the control of her doting father (Vincent Garber) and domineering Victorian mother (Amy Irving). In the grand tradition of be-careful-what-you-wish-for, Winnie escapes home and ventures into the nearby forest. There she stumbles upon Jesse Tuck, a lively young man who worriedly escorts Winnie to his bucolic (and ultra-concealed) homestead.
The Tucks are tentatively warm and welcoming, in particular father Angus (William Hurt) and mother Mae (Sissy Spacek). But the family is unwilling to let Winnie return home, in part because she is likely to expose their Powerful Secret (which will not be revealed here). This Secret overshadows whatever delight Winnie gleans from her blossoming romance with Jesse, and her exhilarating new taste of freedom. Danger lurks on the outskirts of the forest, as a tracker known as The Man in the Yellow Suit (Ben Kingsley) seems to have developed an uncommon interest in the whereabouts of the missing Winnie.
There’s an air of “Titanic” and “West Side Story” about “Tuck” – a “could be, who knows” aura of anticipation. Instead of developing that delicious unknown into something palpable, director Jay Russell (“My Dog Skip”) weighs down his capricious fairly tale with heavy sentiment and lightweight meaning.
Kingsley isn’t menacing enough, Hurt isn’t decisive enough, and Spacek seems content in the one-note role of doting mom. Bledel is ethereal, blessed with a still-waters-run-deep beauty that’s wasted on her insipid storyline.
Associations to the Disney TV movies of the 60s are comforting and nostalgic. The Secret, when ultimately revealed, opens up the potential to explore deeper issues of longevity, nascent sexuality, and the nature of an evocative lifestyle. Instead, those provocative issues are mired in a “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman” sensibility that’s disappointingly trite.