A WRINKLE IN TIME
From Book to Screen
When Madeleine L'Engle's young adult novel "A Wrinkle in Time" was first
published in 1962, it
became an instant classic. The timeless story of a young girl searching the
universe for her father
enchanted countless readers around the world and spawned four additional books
same characters known as L'Engle's Time Quintet. In 1963 the book was awarded
the Newbery Medal
(as the most distinctive piece of work in children's literature for that year),
and its popularity has
continued to grow since then. Today the book is available in 35 languages and
has sold millions of
copies around the world.
Fifty years later, executives at Disney had been toying with the idea of
bringing "A Wrinkle in Time"
to the big screen when producer Jim Whitaker approached the studio about the
whose production company is based on the Burbank lot and who has produced films
including "Pete's Dragon" and "The Finest Hours," is a longtime fan of the book
and felt strongly that
an adaptation could work on a number of levels. The studio agreed, and brought
him on to produce.
"'A Wrinkle in Time' is an incredibly emotional journey, but it is set against a
and in a world that is beyond dramatic," Whitaker says. "It is epic in its size
and scope, but it is also
deeply emotional and is entertaining and funny and an all-around great
Catherine Hand has been closely involved with "A Wrinkle in Time" for years
and soon joined
Whitaker as a producer. She met Madeleine L'Engle more than 30 years ago when
Hand was working
for legendary TV writer-producer Norman Lear and remained close with the author
until her death
in 2007 when L'Engle bequeathed the book's rights to her.
"We had marvelous conversations where I came to understand what the story
really meant to her,"
Hand explains. "I also gained a deeper understanding of many of the book's
different themes and
came to appreciate how rich and textured it truly is."
Hand continues, "I first read the book around the time of the Kennedy
assassination, and I remember
adults around me saying that hope had died, which was a hard thing for a young
girl to hear. The
book gave me a sense of hope and courage and helped me to understand that while
evil does exist,
it can be overcome."
For the next two decades Hand pursued a film adaptation. "Catherine knows the
emotionality of the
material and saw the potential for incredible visual effects, plus she came to
the table with a great
deal of knowledge from her relationship with Madeleine over many years," says
Whitaker. "This film
would not exist without her stewardship."
In 2014, the studio approached celebrated screenwriter Jennifer Lee
("Frozen," "Wreck-It Ralph")
about adapting L'Engle's novel for the big screen, a prospect that thrilled her.
"As a child, the book
defied anything I had read at that point in my life in terms of imagination,"
says Lee. "And it was my
first introduction to a character like Meg-someone who is dynamic and flawed and
goes through an extraordinary adventure and comes out stronger as a person."
The producers had no problem entrusting Lee with the material. "Jennifer
wrote one of Disney's
biggest hits in recent years, 'Frozen,' and the themes and ideas in that film
have similar qualities to
what 'A Wrinkle in Time' offers," says Whitaker. "'Frozen' has heart, it has
humor, it is an incredible
epic adventure and it has this really personal story about a girl coming into
her own, and that's what
this movie is about too, so Jennifer had all the ideal qualities."
"Jennifer knows how to write fully-rounded, winning characters," continues
Whitaker. "When you
read a script of hers you feel like you want to be with these characters and you
root for them to win,
which, as a screenwriter, is hard to do. It's like a very subtle craftsman like
thing to always be able to
make an audience feel like they're on board with every character, no matter
"'A Wrinkle in Time' is a book that pushes your imagination to the next
level," says Lee. "The book
doesn't follow a traditional film structure in any way. It's very ethereal, it's
very spiritual and it gets
in your head, and when you have that kind of a relationship with a book, it's
okay because that's
what is great about reading: your mind fills in the gaps with what you want to
see. But with film I
have to make choices."
She continues, "When I write about one of the planets visited by the children
and describe what it
looks like, there is a responsibility to try and evoke the same feelings from
the book and to not limit
what the book could do. Because this is Meg's emotional journey, I have to get
inside her head and
interpret everything cinematically and in a way that's just as evocative and
just as emotional as it
was in print."
One year later, a finished script in hand, discussions as to who should take
the helm of such a singular
property began. The studio wanted someone with the skills, creativity and
passion to bring the story
to life...someone with the ability to tell both an intimate story and one with
substantial issues and
Ava DuVernay was that someone. A celebrated director with film credits
including the Oscar-
nominated films "Selma" and "13TH" as well as the NAACP Image Award-winning
"Queen Sugar," DuVernay easily met their criteria, but when the studio first
approached her she did
not initially leap at the opportunity. It wasn't until she sat down and read the
screenplay that she
began to visualize the story coming to life on screen.
"The idea of 'A Wrinkle in Time' really captured my imagination once I read
the script," DuVernay
remembers. "As a woman, the story of a female heroine at the center of a
spectacular journey really
resonated with me."
She continues, "'A Wrinkle in Time' is this beautiful stew of mystery,
fantasy, adventure, science,
romance, social commentary and spirituality. It's not often that we see girls at
the center of a story-
and certainly not girls of color-amid all these different worlds and planets. It
really is something out
of my wildest imagination."
Charlotte Jones Voiklis, Madeleine L'Engle's granddaughter, found DuVernay to
be an exciting choice
to direct, saying, "She represents so many firsts, as did my grandmother, and I
think the two mirror
each other beautifully. One of the things my grandmother would always say is
that we can't pretend
evil doesn't exist...we just need to give children the tools with which to fight
it. Ava understands that
as well, and goes about it with a great clarity of vision and empathy."
"Ava is a force of nature and willpower and vision, and that's just a fact,"
adds Whitaker. "She is
grace in motion. She comes onto set and immediately puts everyone at ease and
them to their best selves, and that's what's beautiful about working with her."
DuVernay knew the path ahead of her would be a challenging one, as it was
important that the film
not only capture the emotional story of a young girl's journey but also the
details that have meant
so much to so many for so long. "While certain aspects of the story have been
updated or tweaked
to be more contemporary or cinematic, our goal was to capture Madeleine
L'Engle's intention with
the story," DuVernay says. "Hopefully the film will make booklovers feel the same
way they felt when
they first read it, even if it looks a bit different, because my job is to
super-size their memories and
push them further."
Thus began a lengthy process where the filmmakers researched, dissected and
analyzed what they
believed L'Engle's true intentions were with the book and what she wanted her
readers to feel. "I
believe, as do people in her family and people who knew her, that Madeleine
L'Engle was a
passionate woman with moxie," says DuVernay. "She was a brave artist, so we
tried to challenge
ourselves to be brave in our choices as well."
"The reason why generations of people have gravitated toward this book is
because it has an edge,"
DuVernay continues. "It was on the edge of imagination and adventure in 1962,
and our goal was to
extend that edge through our design and effects to bring Jennifer Lee's script
to vibrant life."
"A Wrinkle in Time" is a timeless tale, and the combined perspectives of
DuVernay and Lee add rich
layers to the powerful story in a way that lovingly preserves L'Engle's voice and
a new vision to life.
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