Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Tuck Everlasting - Comparisons

Our feature presentation is Tuck Everlasting. Based on the book by Natalie Babbitt and produced by Walt Disney Pictures.

It's a story of a wealthy young girl who stumbles upon a secret. She learns that there is a family living in her woods—a family, who she later discovers has been made immortal after drinking from a magical spring eighty-seven years ago.

Here's the synopsis according to the movie, but I'll discuss the book later and bring out the differences, both pro and con.

We'll start with the opening scene. It begins with a young man on a motorcycle riding through a contemporary town. Note that the story actually takes place in the early 1900s. In my opinion, this scene was unnecessary. It was confusing to the viewer in our group who hadn't seen the movie or read the book. All of a sudden we're back in time and she was wondering what that was all about. I also didn't like it because rather than creating a question, it's simply intrusive.

The girl, fifteen-year-old Winnie Foster, discovers seve
nteen-year-old Jesse Tuck, the youngest son of the Tuck family, drinking at a spring bubbling from the ground beneath a tree. His older brother, Miles, kidnaps Winnie because she knows where the spring is. At this point, she doesn't know their secret, but he can't take chances. He's afraid she'll tell her family where the spring is.

Winnie, disgruntled with her stifling lifestyle, and longing to run away anyway, soon sees this as her opportunity. She falls in love with Jesse, and time stands still for her as well as she grows to love the family and their gentle, simple ways.

Enter the man in the yellow suit. He had already talked to Winnie through the fence, looking for the Tucks. Her mother shooed him away, but he hung around. Which is how he learns of the secret at the same time as Winnie. Jesse takes her back to the spring to explain everything to her. The man in the yellow suit overhears, although he's still not sure where the spring is, and follows them back to the cottage.

After being accused of kidnapping Winnie, the man reports back to her father of her whereabouts. But he has an agenda. He bargains Winnie's freedom for the woods, of which he will pay a fair price. The father reluctantly agrees and now the man owns the spring. He intends to bottle it and sell it, making himself rich. A posse is formed to go get Winnie, but the man gets there first. He intends for Winnie to take him to the spring where he'll force her to drink so he can use her in his demonstrations while selling the water.

The family struggles to pull Winnie from his arms, but Mae Tuck, the mother, sneaks behind him and whacks him in the head with the butt of a rifle. Bad timing, for the posse has just arrived to see her do this.

She and Tuck, the father, are placed in the jail, and Mae will be hung for killing the man in the yellow suit.

Jesse comes to Winnie's house late at night. He asks her to help them get his parents out of jail. If Mae hangs, she won't die and then the whole world will know their secret.

I'll leave Mae in jail for now while I discuss the differences between the book and the movie.

How the Book Differs From the Movie

The book is beautifully written—a literary masterpiece. The prologue begins thus: "The first week of August hangs at the very top of summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning." With lines like this, one would expect it to float like a seeded dandelion on a playful breeze. And it does, but with very little conflict until the end.

Disney felt the need to up the angst—in all, a wise choice, except for some nonsensical changes, particulary the jail scene which I'll mention later.

After the gorgeous prologue that sets up the circle of life, chapter one details how smart the cows were not to have made a road through the wood. Chapter two begins with Mae Tuck excited to see her two sons again after ten years. And chapter three shows ten-year-old Winnie Foster sitting on her grass just inside the fence, talking to a toad about how awful it is to be yelled at and watched all the time by her mother and grandmother. As an only child, they have no one else to pick on. She half-heartedly talks about running away.

We already see a difference with the age of the young heroine. In the movie, she's fifteen, but in the book, she's ten. I think this was a good call on Disney's part because they were able to create a sweet love story between Winnie and Jesse without it seeming "weird." The book attempts their attraction, but it does seem awkward in places.

Another difference was with Miles, the oldest Tuck brother. In the book, the author portrays him as sad. His wife and two children never drank from the eternal spring, and so grew old while Miles did not. His wife believed he sold his soul to the devil and left, taking the children with her. In the movie, Miles is angry and bitter. His daughter died of a disease, and his wife was sent to an insane asylum, where she also later died. His son, he says, would be almost eighty years old, but he doesn't know where he's at. In one scene, Miles goes to a saloon and cheats at cards, knowing that if he were shot, nothing would happen to him. The Miles in the book would never do that, but Disney needed to bring in more conflict. Other than the saloon scene, I say they did a great job. Miles and Jesse fight more in the movie than in the book, because Jesse is so opposite. He loves the fact that he's immortal and he wants to see every inch of the world. These contrary personalities were just what this story needed.

In the movie, Miles is the one who tells the family that the man in the yellow suit is tracking them. In the book, they don't realize it until he shows up at their cottage. This also lends a little more conflict than the book. It sets a stronger ticking clock than the original work had alluded to.
In the book, the man in the yellow suit knows about the family through his grandmother whose dear friend had married into an odd family. That friend was Mile's wife. When she left Mile's with their children they came to live the grandmother, and that's where he heard about the family of immortals and became intrigued as to how they became that way. In the movie, he tells the family that he'd heard a patient in an insane asylum talk about a family of immortals. This is why Disney invented that little bit of back story for Miles about his wife going to an asylum. This tie-in is much more interesting and leaves us to wonder if the man had been a patient as well.

Let's talk about the toad. If you read the book, you know that Winnie had made a friend of a toad that listened to her patiently on the other side of the fence. He was, apparently her only friend. She conversed with it, which we never saw in the movie. The toad just showed up once in awhile so that if you'd read the book, you'd know Disney had too. More about the toad in a minute.

First I'll talk about the jail scene.

This scene only made me shake my head and utter, "This is Disney doing a little Disney-ing." In the book, Winnie is asked by Jesse to come to the jail at a certain hour late at night and help them get Mae out. Note that Tuck was not arrested with her, but when she shows up, he and the boys are standing outside of Mae's window with masonry tools. It seems Miles knew masonry, a fact that hadn't been told yet, so it's jarring to suddenly find this out. In any case, I like the book's resolution to their problem over the movie. The author has Miles pick at the barred window until it comes loose. A storm is nearing and he pries the window whenever there is a crash of thunder so the sound can't be heard. When the window is released, Mae climbs out and Winnie climbs in, taking Mae's place so when the sheriff checks on her, he sees her asleep. Then, in the morning, when she is found, the family is long gone. Winnie can't get into too much trouble because she is only ten after-all.

Now the movie version. Mae and Tuck are in their jail cell. A "frantic" Winnie (fifteen-years-old, remember) runs in the jail crying and saying the Tucks are trying to kidnap her again. The sheriff asks where they are, and she points outside. He grabs a rifle and heads out. There, standing like two demons in the storm, are Jesse and Miles in black clothing, black capes, and black top hats. They move toward the sheriff and Jesse orates these words: "Prepare to meet thy doom." Seriously? It was all very theatrical as only Disney would attempt. The sheriff shoots both Jesse and Miles, who fall appropriately. But then they rise, unhurt. The sheriff, scared out of his wits, runs for his life. I see a problem here. Wasn't the reason they wanted Mae out of jail was to prevent anyone knowing their secret? And here they dramatically call attention to it. Someone didn't think this through.

Anyway, in both the book and movie, the family has time to get away. But not before Jesse makes Winnie promise to find the spring when she turns seventeen, drink from it, and he will come find her later. In the book, he seeks her out at home later, gives her a vial of the water and requests the same.

This difference is important. Here's why.

Winnie's last scene in the movie has her sitting by the tree, picking up the water and letting it drip through her fingers. Moments play in her mind of Jesse telling her how exciting life would be if they both lived forever, and of Tuck explaining that the circle of life was too important to be messed with. The immortal life was like a rock along the river, never growing, never moving, only being, he tells her. Then it cuts away. In the book, however, Winnie stands at her fence on her property, watching a dog try to attack her toad. (See, I told you I'd get back to it.) She grabs the toad, takes it to her room and pours the vial over his body, as toads don't drink, they absorb. I like that she makes this small sacrifice for her friend Toad. It's small, because she can always go back to the spring, if she can find it again, and do as Jesse requested.

In both scenes, the movie where she plays with the water and the book where she pours her vial on the toad, the question still hangs: Does she or doesn't she?

The last scene is in the town and it morphes from early 1900s to contemporary. This is effectively done in both the book and the movie. However, in the movie, Jesse is on his motorcycle, (a continuation of the first scene that I didn't like,) and looks longingly at Winnie's house. Then he takes off and finds the tree now with a gravestone near--Winnie's, where we learn by the carved epitaph that she had become a wife and mother, and lived a hundred years. In the book, Mae and Tuck enter town on their buckboard, out of place with the cars and pavement. They lament that nothing looks the same, and that the woods have been flattened. (If the woods had been flattened, Jesse would have never been able to find the tree.) They go to a cemetery, and there find Winnie's grave marker, still a wife and mother, but she died at seventy-six. I guess Disney wanted to show that she lived a full life by making her one hundred.

So, that's what worked and what didn't in the opinions of those who watched the movie together and discussed it.

On a final note, there was a scene in the movie where the man in the yellow suit goes to a cemetery outside of a church. The vicar comes out to see if he needs anything, and the man, a bit psychotically, asks about eternal life. If a person could live forever without dying, wouldn't that be a good thing? The vicar stammers out that the man speaks blasphemy. I wish that Disney would have let the vicar do his job. It would have gone something like this: "But everyone has access to eternal life through Jesus Christ. He told the woman at the well as much when He explained God's living water in John 4:13-14. "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life."

Wouldn't that have made a great statement? The social commentary included in the story is that used wrongly, this water would cause anarchy. But God's plan for living water is perfect.

Sigh. But that was Disney doing a little Disney-ing again.

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