Ava DuVernay’s ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ Could Be Sabotaged by Hype

Luckily, after the 2003 version, the stakes are low

It’s a classic story. A teenage girl goes on an adventure through time and space with her younger brother and friend. They need to rescue their father, a scientist, from the wicked forces holding him prisoner on another planet. In March of 2018 Madeline L’Engle’s beloved A Wrinkle in Time comes to audiences as a star-studded new movie by Ava DuVernay. As the Los Angeles Times reported this past weekend, the film’s trailer was just unveiled at D23, the Disney fan expo in Anaheim, Calif, to much excitement from the book’s fans.

DuVernay has gathered a top notch and diverse cast that includes Oprah Winfrey, Mindy Kaling and Reese Witherspoon, and at first look, the special effects mercifully appear to be much better than in the 2003 television movie (more on that later). Storm Reid embodies the confident and charismatic character Meg, and Oprah Winfrey appears to make a perfect “Mrs. Which.” Glowing reviews are pouring in for the trailer alone. 

“Disney’s A Wrinkle in Time trailer sparkles with black girl magic,” says NBC News columnist Dorean K. Collins, who notes that from the very start of this venture director Ava DuVernay envisioned a diverse cast—picking an African-American actor for the role of the young protagonist being especially important.

The trailer “dazzles with big stars [and] big ideas,” according to CNET’S Gael Fashingbauer Cooper, while David Sims of The Atlantic gushed that even from the preview the film felt totally original despite being based on a well-known book, standing out in a 2018 Disney lineup loaded with sequels and adaptations. A well-reviewed trailer is excellent publicity for a film, but with a great expectation comes a lot of pressure.

Luckily, in its favor is the fact that the 2003 version was so poorly executed, anything even slightly better will seem great. If you don’t recall (and hopefully, you don’t), ­­John Kent Harrison directed the made-for-television movie back in 2003. The film was poorly cast, and Katie Stuart didn’t have the charisma required to play Meg Murry. Gregory Smith was a poor fit for Calvin O’Keefe, and though Alfre Woodard is usually a great actress, her role as “Mrs. Whatsit” seemed like a comic book parody. If anything, the movie turned prospective readers off.

Director Ava DuVernay spent a lot of time casting this project and seemingly wants to right the wrongs of the previous adaptation. But inevitably her casting appears to have ruffled some feathers. Arguments that DuVernay is trying to make too much of a political point by casting African American actors as characters that were assumed to be white (though the book doesn’t actually specify). Media outlets largely haven’t reported on the controversy (probably in order to avoid controversy themselves), but it’s all over social media. Though the voices condemning those criticizing the cast are doing their best to drown out the negativity.

But upsetting people with casting choices is really only one potential hazard. A bigger obstacle is in translating the magic of A Wrinkle in Time onto the big screen. That doesn’t always work, no matter how good the director or cast might be. Lois Lawry’s The Giver, for example, another classic children’s book, flopped at the box office in 2014 despite extensive promotion and starring Meryl Streep in a lead role.

But the biggest way A Wrinkle in Time could be sabotaged is by overhype. While releasing the trailer 8 months before the film produces a lot of build up, it could backfire when the film finally opens next year. Let Prometheus (2012), Pacific Rim (2013), Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), and the most classic example, Star Wars: Episode 1: The Phantom Menace, be a lesson in this. Let’s hope Disney learns from past marketing campaigns and allows A Wrinkle in Time to speak for itself.

Ava DuVernay’s ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ Could Be Sabotaged by Hype