If ‘‘Tuck Everlasting’’ director Jay Russell knows anything, he knows middle America.
The Little Rock-based family man first found fame outside Arkansas with his ‘‘Great Drives,’’ a five-part PBS series about America’s greatest highways.
That 1997 award-winning directing and producing effort led Russell to author Willie Morris, who just happened to be working on a little book titled ‘‘My Dog Skip.’’ When that boy-and-his-dog tale became a best seller, Morris turned to Russell to make it into a movie. He did just that, yielding the much-lauded 2001 kid-friendly film starring Frankie Muniz.
With Russell earning a reputation for handling family film fare in a way that also appealed to adults, it was only natural that ‘‘Tuck Everlasting’’ would end up in his lap.
‘‘Lots of people saw ‘My Dog Skip,’ so I’ve been getting lots of scripts from people wanting me to do family films,’’ Russell said from the Baltimore set of ‘‘Ladder 49.’’ ‘‘The script to ‘Tuck’ was not in great shape. But before I said no, I decided to read the book.’’
Although Natalie Babbitt’s family fantasy was a ‘‘great read,’’ Russell was shocked how the script he’d received ‘‘missed’’ the beauty of the book. That beauty is found not only in the main streets and backwoods of America circa 1914 but in the love story between a spoiled young lady and a time-defying lad named Tuck, whose 17 th-century family were guardians of a fountain of youth.
With a best seller for its source, a teen romance, lavish period settings and stars such as William Hurt, Ben Kingsley and Sissy Spacek, Disney figured ‘‘Tuck’’ would go over well with family audiences. They figured wrong. Last fall, ‘‘Tuck Everlasting’’ came and went faster than the Tuck family disappears into thin air.
Russell said: ‘‘I don’t know what happened. I think adults ended up thinking it was a teen romance. The young people thought it was more for adults. Seems like everyone was scared off. I’m hoping it will find its audience on video.’’
The PG-rated ‘‘Tuck Everlasting’’ is on video and DVD this week (Walt Disney, VHS: $22.99 srp.; DVD: $29.99 srp.), and Russell won’t mind at all if it follows the course of his first film: ‘‘End of the Line.’’ That feisty railroad comedy also did so-so at the box office only to find long life on video: ‘‘I made that back in 1988. And I still get notes from people all the time about that film. It’s a great thrill when people remember your work.’’