We recommend movies to watch after you see Disney’s adaptation of the classic children’s novel.
Madeleine L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle in Time” is one of the most famous young adult sci-fi/fantasy novels, but despite being published more than 50 years ago the book hasn’t shown a lot of direct influence on movies. Not in the way that would cause a big-screen adaptation to seem derivative of its own followers — a la John Carter. At the time of its writing, “Wrinkle” was compared to “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.” In decades since, its heroine, Meg Murray, has been seen in any smart, stubborn young female protagonist, including most recently Hermione Granger of the “Harry Potter” series and Katniss Everdeen in “The Hunger Games.”
The movie A Wrinkle in Time isn’t any more obvious in any connections it may have to other films. Director Ava DuVernay isn’t going around talking about stuff she watched before making her version. So what is there to study next? I’ve already assigned the 2003 TV movie version for comparison. There are the other not-so-great non-sci-fi L’Engle coming-of-age adaptations (Disney’s 2002 TV movie A Ring of Endless Light, 2012’s Camilla Dickinson) and DuVernay’s own other narrative films (I Will Follow, Middle of Nowhere, Selma). And you can see Storm Reid in the recent magician superhero movie Sleight, which we liked more than others did.
For this week’s list of Movies to Watch, though, I’ve picked an array of titles that I personally thought about while watching A Wrinkle in Time. Not all of them are appropriate for the main audience of Wrinkle, so for any children looking here for suggested viewing, pocket some of these recommendations for later years.
In Search of the Castaways (1962)
Missing fathers are a common trope in storytelling, including those involving disappeared dads in need of locating or rescuing. Movies with protagonists in search of fathers lost on expeditions go back at least to 1925’s The Lost World, but this children’s adventure film seems a more fitting one to highlight. Not only is In Search of the Castaways also a live-action Disney feature, but it was released the same year as “Wrinkle” was published. Based on the 1868 Jules Verne novel of the same name (aka “Captain Grant’s Children”), which was also previously adapted into a 1936 Soviet film, the movie involves a similar mission, also planned after the discovery that the missing father might still be alive, only this one is completely earthbound.
Disney icon Hayley Mills, hot off the studio’s hits Pollyanna and The Parent Trap, stars as a teenage girl who embarks on a trip around the world to find her shipwrecked father. Like Meg Murray, she’s joined by a younger brother, and eventually there’s another boy her age along for the adventure too. Instead of three extraterrestrial women helping in their quest, they partner with a nutty old man, played by musical legend Maurice Chevalier — and yes, he does sing some songs, written by the Sherman Brothers. And later they meet up with George Sanders (kids know him best as the voice of Shere Khan in The Jungle Book), who turns out to be the villain. While there is no time or space travel, the group do encounter some fantastical dangers, including a giant condor, along with an earthquake, an active volcano, and other disasters before they finally find the paternal sea captain.
The Holy Mountain (1973)
Unlike the G-rated In Search of the Castaways, this movie is not to for the younger fans of A Wrinkle in Time. Alejandro Jodorowsky’s surreal masterpiece may not have consciously influenced the look of Wrinkle — I don’t even know if DuVernay or production Naomi Shohan have seen let alone are fans of it — but I’m not alone in seeing similarities in some of the visuals. Not that he was the first to share side-by-side shots, particularly of the father’s gradient-colored prison in Wrinkle, but Film School Rejects writer and One Perfect Shot founder H. Perry Horton more thoroughly tweeted this following comparison:
— H. Perry Horton (@hperryhorton) February 16, 2018
In a way, The Holy Mountain is also an antithetical recommendation to link with Wrinkle, in that the latter is based on a book with a liberal Christian point of view while Jodorowsky’s film satirizes organized religion. The story follows a Christ-like figure and his followers as they ascend a mountain with a mission to depose the immortal gods residing and ruling there. While there are religious themes and images referenced, the film is not celebrated for its plot so much as it’s beloved for its psychedelic design. In a post here on FSR, Horton wrote that Jodorowsky “pushes the borders of reality and imagination in unnerving, grotesque, and hallucinatory ways…[his] films are experiences, they are projected visions in the spiritual sense, the explorative hypotheses of one mind transmitted in shocking clarity to others.”
The NeverEnding Story (1984)
Here is a movie that DuVernay has actually mentioned, though not necessarily as a definite influence on Wrinkle. During a recent photoshoot for the Washington Post, she cited the fantasy film in comparison to the pictures being taken of her. “Growing up, I loved watching The NeverEnding Story and fantasies with creatures and worlds beyond my window,” she tweeted. “Thanks to [photographer Marvin Joseph] for making me feel like I was finally in one of those stories.” In interviews for Wrinkle, the filmmaker has also mentioned this along with Disney’s Escape to Witch Mountain as the kind of movie she wanted to make but with a protagonist she would have better identified with as a young fan of those childhood favorites.
The NeverEnding Story did come to mind for me without my knowing of that tweet or the interview mentions beforehand, and it’s also been referenced in a number of reviews. But the two films are not really that similar. This one is about a boy reading a book and the hero’s quest story within that book, to which the former becomes connected. There are certain connections, from the main character being bullied to his ride on a soaring creature to the evil force or darkness known as “the Nothing,” which is comparable to “the Black Thing” in Wrinkle. DuVernay’s film may have a more compelling lead, but The NeverEnding Story has more interesting supporting characters and more memorable moments. Just don’t watch the sequels.
A Brief History of Time (1991)
L’Engle’s novel may have inspired even more scientists than storytellers, given that the ideas about space and time travel in “Wrinkle” are somewhat ahead of their time. While Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and the concept of wormholes were around prior to the book’s writing, they weren’t as popular or understood as they are today. And string theory was still a few years away from being studied. For the most obvious link between the L’Engle story and its influence on physicists, there’s George Smoot’s book “Wrinkles in Time.” But there’s no movie version of that, so let’s go back a bit earlier to probably the most famous theoretical physicist since Einstein, Stephen Hawking.
Hawking’s 1988 bestseller “A Brief History of Time: From the Big Bang to Black Holes” is a great read for anyone interested in the scientific ideas referenced in Wrinkle, and it’s written in a way that even most preteens can follow it. Or you can watch Errol Morris’s even more accessible documentary, which is partly an adaptation of the nonfiction book and partly a biographical portrait of Hawking. In addition to helping us to comprehend time and space and deep concepts and theories involving them, this film is also a better work through which to understand the scientists himself than any acted biopic portrayal.
Bridge to Terabithia (2007)
The one movie on this list with a major credit connection to Wrinkle, this fellow children’s novel adaptation from Disney was also co-scripted by Jeff Stockwell. Like L’Engle’s book, Bridge to Terabithia is part of a tradition of YA fantasy involving Christian themes, and its source material, written by Katherine Paterson, does make references to the works of C.S. Lewis and Lloyd Alexander — both of whom have also been adapted into movies put out by Disney. This one wasn’t as big a deal as Wrinkle or the Chronicles of Narnia series (which like this was co-produced by Walden Media) because it’s much smaller, but its relatively low budget surely made it more profitable.
Bridge to Terabithia is about a young boy (future Hunger Games co-star Josh Hutcherson) with a precocious younger sibling and a new friend of the opposite sex (AnaSophia Robb, who’d previously starred in the similarly earnest but not fantasy based Walden Media adaptation Because of Winn-Dixie). They don’t go on adventures to actual other worlds, instead making one up in the woods. The school scenes here, especially those dealing with a bully, are most recognizable in relation to Wrinkle, but this movie stays grounded by having the characters return from their fantasy realm daily, showing parallels between the real and the imagined worlds that are reminiscent of but more emphasized than other children’s fiction, such as The Wizard of Oz.
Winter’s Bone (2010)
From one Hunger Games actor to another, here’s the movie that broke out Jennifer Lawrence as a star with an Oscar-nominated performance. She plays a girl who, like Meg in Wrinkle, is searching for her father. But her quest is not out of love and longing for a lost parent she sees a hero. Lawrence’s Ree needs to find her deadbeat dad — if he hasn’t actually died in a meth lab fire — to make sure he shows up in court so they don’t lose their home. Her search takes her on an odyssey through her poor, rural community in the Ozarks, as she meets with various kin and members of a local drug-dealing operation.
Besides the search for a disappeared dad, there’s not a lot in common between Winter’s Bone and Wrinkle, and that’s sort of why I’m including it. This movie shows a more realistic — and you can call me a cynic for thinking so — situation where everyone including the father, but excluding the heroine and her siblings, is bad news. They’re not affected by some force of evil, save for maybe the meth. And they can’t be saved by acts of the heart. Ree has to just navigate the dark side of her environment and not need to defeat it but just know that at least she’s pure and good and that’s all that matters for herself and her family.
If you pay close attention during this movie from writer/director Christopher Nolan, you might notice one of the hundreds of books on the bookshelves is actually “A Wrinkle in Time.” There are a ton of significant texts featured sort of as “Easter eggs,” though most are genuine props that don’t seem out of place in the collection of a NASA engineer/pilot. During the movie’s release, Wired got Nolan to address some of the books they spotted, both fiction and nonfiction, and here’s what he said about the L’Engle: “My introduction to the idea of higher dimensions, including the notion of a tesseract.”
Interstellar is also about a scientist who heads out into space and winds up missing and, like Wrinkle, the brilliant daughter who seeks to find out what happened to him. Yes, there is a tesseract here, allowing the father to travel through a wrinkle in time and space. But there is no good versus evil, just a hard sci-fi exploration of traveling through the cosmos and other dimensions. Like Wrinkle, though, there are affirmations of the power of love. While the main characters are more methodical about ways of the heart, Anne Hathaway’s character says: “Love isn’t something we invented. It’s observable, powerful, it has to mean something… Love is the one thing we’re capable of perceiving that transcends dimensions of time and space.”
Before seeing Wrinkle (and not remembering enough of the book so many decades later), I saw the title of MatPat’s latest Film Theory claiming to connect L’Engle’s story to Stephen King’s “It” (watch below). That seemed pretty far fetched but I didn’t watch the video in case it spoiled me on the movie. During the movie, though, even before the name of the villain was given as “It,” I was already feeling a similarity between the two authors’ works. Of course, part of that was me thinking DuVernay’s adaptation felt a little light in the way last year’s The Dark Tower does, but the light vs. darkness stuff also made me think of the conflicts in “It” and ‘The Stand.”
As you can see in the video, the fact that there’s an “It” in both Wrinkle and It is a big enough sell. DuVernay’s movie doesn’t showcase Charles Wallace’s telepathic abilities, so not really any link to “The Shining,” and the time-travel aspect isn’t addressed enough to make the “11.22.63” parts matter much, but all the It connections are solid, especially when the man with red eyes (aka “Red” in the credits) is depicted as a relatively clown-like puppet, and that does allow a gateway to everything else in the King multiverse, including The Dark Tower. Now if only, like It, Wrinkle gets a sequel, because as unsatisfied as I was with the first one, similar to The Dark Tower (and, again, John Carter) I still would have been interested to see their worlds and characters and the actors playing them continued.