The Movie that Bombed Disney’s Balance Sheet

Disney's big bet on children's classic goes bust. The author explores how the film fails to do justice to Madeleine L'Engle's timeless work.

Madeleine L’Engle’s five-book Wrinkle in Time series shaped my imagination and awakened my appetite for science and fantasy as an elementary school reader.

My best friend Maria and I tried, daily, to kyth: telepathically transmit series of thoughts to each other without speaking, just like Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin did in the books. Maria and I passionately discussed our own impending discovery of wrinkles in time through which we, too, would travel to other planets and eons.

L’Engle’s books were not just a stories to us; they were worlds in which we lived.

So you can imagine my over-the-top excitement when I heard A Wrinkle in Time the movie was coming out in 2018. With wildly expectant anticipation, I reread A Wrinkle in Time to prepare for the movie that I hoped would bring my childhood fantasies to life on the big screen.

To say the movie dashed my hopes would be an understatement; to say it broke my heart would be nearer to the truth.

I could say I wish I hadn’t reread the book so the movie’s glaring disloyalties to and omissions of key plot points from L’Engle’s novel were not so painful. But A Wrinkle in Time disappointed me in a far deeper way than the to-be-expected neglect and/or addition of details variant from book that all movie remakes engender.

I didn’t need to reread the book to immediately discern Disney’s movie version of A Wrinkle in Time utterly failed to transmit the stirring message and exhilarating sense of adventure Madeleine L’Engle offered me as a child.

The book A Wrinkle in Time was published in 1962; I read it for the first time in 2000. The timeless themes of self discovery, adventure, self confidence, loyalty, and courage rang as true and relevant to me almost 40 years after the book came out as it did to readers in the 60s. And when I read the book again as an adult in 2018, again it inspired my belief in my own capacities and in the magical endlessness of the possibilities our universe might hold.

While L’Engle’s books will live forever, Disney’s cinematic version of A Wrinkle in Time died before it even got off the ground – majorly underperforming as soon as it hit the box office, and losing major money.

According to a Yahoo! Finance report released earlier this week, the movie only has earned $126.8 million worldwide. The film’s marketing and production budget was between $150 and $250 million – meaning Disney might have lost between $86 and $186 million on the movie.

This is not surprising as the movie traded timeless themes, which made L’Engle’s world immortal, for current issues that came across as trite and forced in comparison. As soon as the film began, my heart sank to depths from which it never again rose during those 110 minutes.

Elements meant to make the story more relevant to “modern times” overshadowed and overpowered the story itself. Why was the family biracial? Why was Charles Wallace adopted? Why did many of Mrs. Who’s classic quotes need to be replaced with current ones?

The focus of the film was contemporary political issues, for which L’Engle’s epicly fantastical world, plot, and characters only were shallow and poorly-developed vehicles.

The plot of the ever-enduring, globally-beloved book A Wrinkle in Time was subverted by an overzealous attempt to make the book’s story and characters recognizable in our modern cultural landscape. A prime example being how the book’s Happy Medium character becomes a grossly over-exaggerated yogic guru (played by Zach Gilifinakis) in the movie.

Disney’s attempt to modernize a timeless tale only made it transient enough for audiences to forget its message (remembering, instead, its all-star cast) as soon as they left the theater. While the digital version of the film will be available May 29, and the Blu-ray/DVD will be coming out June 5th, something tells me few will be scrambling to get their hands on a digital or hard copy of a recently released film they’ve already long since forgotten.

While the book A Wrinkle in Time lives in the folds of my heart forever, the movie struck me as so shallowly and distastefully contrived as to be better ironed out of my memory as quickly as possible. I, for one, will not be paying to watch it again, ever.


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