Having earned the affection of a multigenerational audience with "My Dog Skip," director Jay Russell once again turns printed matter into cinema that respects the intelligence of adults and kids alike. In his adaptation of Natalie Babbitt's period novel, well-off 15-year old Winnie Foster (Alexis Bledel) falls in with a family of forest dwellers who are the keepers of a magical secret. Exactly what sort of wonder these Tucks have tucked away on their property is something the movie takes its time in revealing (though the mystery is spoiled not only in the movie's trailer, but on its poster. Feh.) As the story slowly unfolds, we're entertained by lovely rural images -- just because a movie was shot in the Baltimore area doesn't mean it has to look like a John Waters picture -- and acting that's light years away from the mugging so common to the family genre.
The only false note, in fact, is the quasi-Scottish accent employed by papa Tuck William Hurt, who sounds as if he's about to take up Fat Bastard's famous cry of "Get in mah belly!" at any minute. Otherwise, it's smart drama all the way, with screenwriters Jeffrey Lieber and James V. Hart bravely suggesting a parallel between Winnie's discovery of her magical new friends and her emerging sexual identity. One swimming scene is a standout of unaviodable metaphor: "I did it and it feels wonderful," Winnie declares after plunging into a body of water with a hunky Tuck son (Jonathan Jackson). "I'm weightless." It might be time to have THAT talk with your kids, and this movie just might help to make the experience a little less traumatic. (For you, I mean.)