Building Entertainment: The Films of the Walt Disney Studio. A Wrinkle in Time

Welcome to my weekly discussion of the films of the Walt Disney Studio. I’m proceeding mostly chronologically. The title comes from a quote from Walt, “I never called my work an ‘art’ It’s part of show business, the business of building entertainment.”

Title: A Wrinkle in Time

Year: 2018

Source materials:  Madeleine L’Engle’s 1962 novel

Budget:  $250 million

Box office: $133.4 million

Plot: Thirteen-year-old middle school student Meg Murry struggles to adjust to her school and home life since her father Alex, a renowned scientist, mysteriously disappeared while studying astrophysics when she was very young. Both Meg and her mother Kate believed he had solved the question of humanity’s existence and was teleported to another world.

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One evening, Meg’s younger brother Charles Wallace welcomes Mrs. Whatsit, a red-haired stranger in an extravagant white dress, into the Murry family house. Mrs. Whatsit claims that the tesseract, a type of space travel Alex was working on, is real. The next day, while walking their dog, they meet one of Meg’s classmates, Calvin O’Keefe. He joins them to go to the house of Mrs. Who, a friend of Charles Wallace who speaks only in quotations. Meg and Charles Wallace invite Calvin to dinner.

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Afterwards Meg and Calvin go into her backyard where Mrs. Whatsit appears with Mrs. Who and another woman, Mrs. Which. The three reveal themselves as astral travelers and lead Meg, Calvin, and Charles Wallace through a tesseract, transporting them to a distant planet named Uriel, third planet from the star Malak in Messier 101. After learning from the flowers that Alex has been to Uriel and since departed, Mrs. Whatsit transforms into a large flying creature and takes the children into the atmosphere where they see a dark shadow called The IT.

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After gaining the women’s trust, Meg and the others tesser to another planet called Orion in the ‘belt’ of the namesake constellation to meet with a seer, the Happy Medium, to seek his help to find Alex. Happy Medium shows them that Meg’s father tessered to Uriel, then Ixchel, and got trapped when he tessered to the planet Camazotz, The IT’s homeworld. After Mrs. Which explains that The IT represents all greed, anger, pride, selfishness, and low self-esteem in the world, she shows the children personal examples of these characteristics, including an elderly friend and neighbor of Charles Wallace getting mugged at a bus stop, Meg’s school bully Veronica’s extreme self-consciousness about her weight, and that Calvin, despite being popular at school, is forced and abused by his father to be a perfectionist.

Given the news that Alex is in danger on Camazotz, the three Misses insist that they all travel back to Earth to regroup and make a plan, but Meg’s strong will not to leave without her father overrides the tesseract, and she unintentionally redirects them to Camazotz. Upon arriving on Camazotz, Mrs. Which, Mrs. Whatsit, and Mrs. Who find they are unable to stay because Camazotz’s evil is stronger than their light. Before they depart, they bestow gifts: Mrs. Who gives Meg her glasses, Mrs. Whatsit gives Meg the knowledge of her faults, and Mrs. Which gives the command to never separate.

After the Misses leave, trees sprout up out of the ground and a forest appears. Meg and Calvin get separated from Charles Wallace by the wild forest. They desperately race to get to the wall to prevent a tornado-earthquake storm called the Land Monster that is destroying the forest. Once creatively getting past the wall, they reunite with Charles Wallace and find themselves in a look-alike neighborhood where all the children are bouncing balls in perfect sync. After calling their children inside, one woman invites them to come inside her house for a meal, but Meg declines the offer and reminds Calvin and Charles Wallace not to trust anyone.

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The surroundings change again and the three children find themselves on a beach where they meet The IT in its bodyguard form, Red. He offers the starving children food and tells them that Alex is safe and happy. He says there is nothing to worry about, but Calvin and Meg realize something is wrong when Charles Wallace says that the food tastes like sand. When Red starts repeating a times table, Charles Wallace is hypnotized by the rhythm, enabling The IT to take control of his mind. As Meg and Calvin pursue Red and Charles Wallace, forcing their way through the beach, they find themselves trapped in a seemingly empty, white spherical room in “CENTRAL Central Intelligence”. Charles Wallace’s personality is different and he insults Meg and Calvin as Red shuts down and disappears.

Using Mrs. Who’s glasses, Meg discovers and climbs an invisible staircase to a room where her father is imprisoned. After a tearful reunion, Meg brings Alex out of captivity, but Charles Wallace, under the influence of The IT’s power, forcefully drags them to meet his master. As Calvin and Meg fall under The IT’s power, Alex opens another tesser and prepares to escape with the children, abandoning Charles Wallace. Meg refuses and projects out of the tesser herself, leaving her alone. When she confronts Charles Wallace, she realizes The IT uses deception and hatred only to fuel his power. Expressing her love for her brother and using the knowledge that she is imperfect, Meg frees Charles Wallace as well as lifting the IT’s control over Camazotz. The three Misses reappear and congratulate Meg’s victory. Mrs. Which says that she and Charles Wallace became true warriors, and they tesser back home.

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After returning home, Meg and Charles Wallace are reunited with their parents and they assure each other that they love each other. Calvin leaves Meg to confront his father after saying a few words to Meg. She stares at the sky, thanking the Misses.

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Background: It is Disney’s second film adaptation of L’Engle’s novel, following a 2003 television film. Following the financial success of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, Disney hired Jeff Stockwell to write the screenplay for Cary Granat and his new Bedrock Studios. Granat had previously worked with Disney on the Chronicles of Narnia and Bridge to Terabithia films. The project’s budget was slated to be $35 million, which the company compared to District 9 and Bridge to Terabithia, both of which were made for less than $30 million. On August 5, 2014, Jennifer Lee was announced as the screenwriter, taking over from Stockwell, who wrote the first draft. Ava DuVernay became the first nonwhite woman to direct a live-action film with a production budget of more than $100 million. Filming for A Wrinkle in Time took place in multiple locations including Eureka, California, in Humboldt County, starting November 29, 2016.

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Changes from the Source Material:In the book, the Murry family includes identical twin brothers Sandy and Dennys, who do not appear in the movie. In the book, Meg and her family are Caucasian, and in the movie, the Murry family is multiracial. Filmmakers believed a multiracial family would be more relevant and relatable for contemporary audiences. Chris Pine has said that the multiracial family dynamic was actually one of the aspects in the script which attracted him to the project.

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Music: On September 28, 2017, Ramin Djawadi was announced as the composer for the film, replacing Jonny Greenwood, who was initially chosen to compose and score the film. On February 20, 2018, it was announced that the soundtrack would feature appearances from Sade, Sia, Kehlani, Chloe x Halle, Freestyle Fellowship, DJ Khaled, and Demi Lovato.

Cast: Oprah Winfrey returns as Mrs. Which. Mindy Kaling returns as Mrs. Who.

Reese Witherspoon as Mrs. Whatsit. She making her screen debut in The Man in the Moon. Her breakthrough came in 1999 with Cruel Intentions and  Election. She appeared in Water For Elephants  Legally Blonde  and its  sequel, and  Sweet Home Alabama. In 2005, her portrayal of June Carter Cash in Walk the Line won her the Academy Award for Best Actress. Witherspoon produced  Gone Girl and Wild  under her production company Hello Sunshine. Witherspoon produced and starred in  Big Little Lies, The Morning Show, and  Little Fires Everywhere. Storm Reid as Meg Murry. She made her film debut in 12 Years a Slave, and has since starred in  Sleight, Don’t Let Go, and  The Invisible Man. On television, she starred in When They See Us, and  Euphoria.

Levi Miller as Calvin O’Keefe.  He is known for playing Peter Pan in Pan, and Luke in Better Watch Out. Chris Pine as Dr. Alexander Murry. He made his feature film debut as Lord Devereaux in The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement, and is known for playing James T. Kirk in the Star Trek reboot film series, Will Colson in Unstoppable, Cinderella’s Prince in Into the Woods, Jack Ryan in Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, Toby Howard in Hell or High Water, Bernie Webber in The Finest Hours, Steve Trevor in Wonder Woman and its sequel, and Robert the Bruce in Outlaw King.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Dr. Kate Murry. She began her career in shows such as Bad Girls, Doctor Who, and Marple. she appeared in  Touch, Larry Crowne, Belle, Beyond the Lights, Jupiter Ascending, Concussion, Free State of Jones, Black Mirror, Miss Sloane, Beauty and the Beast, The Cloverfield Paradox, and Fast Color. She was announced as part of the cast of Disney+’s Loki series. Zach Galifianakis as Happy Medium. He is the host of the Emmy Award-winning talk show Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis. He starred in Baskets for which he was nominated for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series in 2017. He has appeared in The Hangover trilogy, Due Date, The Campaign, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), Masterminds, and The Lego Batman Movie.

Michael Peña as Red. He has appeared in Crash, World Trade Center, Shooter, Observe and Report, Tower Heist, Battle: Los Angeles, End of Watch, Gangster Squad, American Hustle, Fury, Frontera, The Martian, Collateral Beauty, CHiPs, My Little Pony: The Movie, Ant-Man and its sequel Ant-Man and the Wasp, and 12 Strong. Peña had the title role in Cesar Chavez and played the co-lead role in Narcos: Mexico. David Oyelowo as The IT. He is known for playing Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma. He also appeared in A United Kingdom, Queen of Katwe, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Lincoln, Jack Reacher, and The Butler. On television, he appeared in Spooks and Les Misérables.

Conrad Roberts as Elegant Man. He first began his career in 1968 when he was cast as “Edward Stark” on the series The Doctors. He appeared in  The Mosquito Coast, The Serpent and the Rainbow, Miami Vice, The Mask of Zorro, The X-Files, The Scorpion King, NCIS, The Unit, CSI, and The River. Andre Holland as James Jenkins. He is known for his performance as Kevin in Moonlight. He has starred in The Knick, American Horror Story: Roanoke, Selma and 42. On stage, he has starred in August Wilson’s play Jitney on Broadway in 2017.

Rowan Blanchard as Veronica Kiley. She is known for her role as Riley Matthews on the Disney Channel series Girl Meets World. She made appearances on The Goldbergs as Jackie Geary. She will appear as Alexandra in TNT’s Snowpiercer. Bellamy Young as Camazotz Woman. Shebest known for her role as Melody “Mellie” Grant in Scandal. She currently stars in Prodigal Son. She has appeared on The Drew Carey Show, The X Files, ER, Frasier, The West Wing, NCIS, Medium, Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice, Two and a Half Men, Supernatural, Drop Dead Diva, Castle, Peacemakers, For the People, American Dreams, Scrubs, CSI: Miami, Dirty Sexy Money, and Criminal Minds. Young has appeared in  We Were Soldiers, Mission: Impossible III, Larceny, Eve of Understanding, Trust Me, This Is Not a Test, In My Sleep, The Freebie, and Joint Body.

Critical Reception:

  • Alonso Duralde of TheWrap praised the film’s visuals and performances, writing, “Awash in bold colors, bright patterns and ebullient kids, director Ava DuVernay’s new take on ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ dazzles its way across time and space even if it doesn’t quite stick the landing.”
  • David Ehrlich of IndieWire gave the film a “C+” and praised what he described as its ambition, saying: “It almost doesn’t matter that the movie is too emotionally prescriptive to have any real power, or too high on imagination to leave any room for wonder; DuVernay evinces such faith in who she is and what she’s doing that ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ remains true to itself even when everything on screen reads false.”
  • Jamie Broadnax, a freelance writer and member of the Critic’s Choice Awards, tweeted that after seeing the film for the second time, she still was unable to conceptualize and take in the visuals displayed throughout the film and the numerous performances from various characters.
  • Kat Candler, an American independent filmmaker, stated that the film was a “gorgeous love letter to the warriors of the next generation”
  • Mercedes Howze of the New Pittsburgh Courier stated that the visuals were extraordinary and that the film “continues to make lasting impressions on innocent minds to change what it looks like to be a young black woman”.
  • Conner Schwerdtfeger, former entertainment journalist for CinemaBlend, stated that the movie was “all over the place and underperformed,” but that DuVernay deserves some praise for the attempt at filming the seemingly unfilmable.
  • Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter felt that the film was “unable to charm or disarm” the audience.

My take:  I don’t know how you take  a classic YA sci-fi novel, that inspired so many and make it so… dull. I always felt the book is slight, but there was always a sense of mystery. Perhaps the overuse of CGI takes the magic away.

Available on Disney +?:A Wrinkle in Time became available for streaming on Disney+ on March 25, 2020.

Next Week: Christopher Robin