On February 25th at the press conference for Disney’s A Wrinkle in Time, I got to sit down with Producer Catherine Hand to talk about her nearly 40-year journey to bring Madeline L’Engle’s classic novel A Wrinkle in Time to the big screen and why it’s so fitting that it ended up at Disney.
Alex: I found out online that this is not the first time that you’ve produced A Wrinkle in Time.
Catherine: That’s true.
A: My first time reading it was around 2002, I think, right before I saw the ABC version. Obviously this is quite a different take. What’s it like producing the same property twice, and with such different visions of how it should be done?
C: Well first of all, my love of A Wrinkle in Time, is so great that it was just joy to be able to have one more opportunity to bring it to the screen. You know, there were a lot of budget constraints when we were doing the TV version. It was so many different problems that we were dealing with, as on any film.
But then to have an opportunity to have Disney and all of that, what that means, especially the creative talent that we were working with, be behind this. And then have the talent of Jennifer Lee and Ava DuVernay. I mean, it just elevated it to a place where … You know, I always felt that A Wrinkle in Time is so beloved, that it deserves a star cast, a stellar writer, a stellar director and a stellar studio. And I think that we finally achieved that and I’m very, very proud that I never gave up for this moment.
A: That’s amazing. And I know starting the process of trying to get A Wrinkle in Time made as a film, goes back to, I think it was-
A: And so obviously, that’s been quite a long journey. I know when the book first came out, everyone was quick to say that it was far ahead of it’s time. Do you feel like we’re in that time now? Where this is the right film, and right book for today?
C: Yeah, absolutely. Because I read it in 1963 when I was a little girl, and it absolutely helped me cope with the sense of melancholy and loss of Kennedy’s assassination. And I was the first generation that came to know Wrinkle, and benefited from its incredible inspiration.
The thing that Madeleine always was about, is asking questions. Not be afraid of disturbing the universe. And welcoming and finding this blend of science and humanity. And I think we are at a time when we are on the brink of so much change. And I think Wrinkle kind of anchors us into what’s really important.
You know, our relationships with our family. Our brother and sister. I mean, many people will talk about this as a story about a father and daughter. And it is. But it is also a story about a brother and sister. And you know, I think that’s one of the most beautiful things about this story.
The other is the story of how important mentors are. She needed those ladies to help guide her journey. So there’s just so many various moments in the story, that young people today need to be reminded of. Because I think if you just have an appetite of what’s going on on social media, and there’s so much cynicism, and so much negativity, you need to have these other kind of images, and sounds, and music in you too, to counter all of it.
A: And your process of bringing A Wrinkle in Time to the screen has included meeting Madeleine L’Engle and working with her. I know a lot of authors, especially with works of fantasy, when they get so behind the characters and write about them so many times, they get very protective of how they’re translated to the screen. How do you think she would feel knowing that there’s this huge blockbuster adaptation?
C: So, I was very close to Madeleine. I mean, part of the reason why I was a part of this for so long was her trust, and I guess I would say love. Madeleine was extremely protective of everything about that book. Because it meant so much to her, because it was her personal journey of finding meaning, at a very important time in her life.
Madeleine also would have been overjoyed with the kind of excitement that this movie is generating. And you know, it was something new in 1963. I think having a people of color cast, with Ava DuVernay heading this, she would be so excited that she inspired this.
I think sometimes it gets even beyond specifics in the book. Sometimes you just have the let go of those things, and say, okay take me to the 21st century. And I think she would be very, very excited about that.
A: And visually, I read the book as a kid, I reacquainted myself with it leading up to seeing this adaptation, and I know my personal vision of what I saw when I read it, was very different than what they brought to the screen. And it’s completely beyond the scope of what I’m capable of imagining. What’s it like taking those elements and kind of redesigning, redefining how the Mrs.es look, how they’re form, the flying form on that planet looked?
C: So here’s what happened. That book was written in 1962, and there have been a number of writers, and producers and directors since then, making great movies that borrowed a lot from it.
A: I noticed.
C: So, we had to really drill down every single thing. You know, what the ladies wore, what the centaur looked like, and really what’s going on emotionally. What was the need for this? And then to reimagine something new, that captured the something old. And I think Ava, with the help of our visual effects, with Rich McBride, and all these other people. I think she was just brilliant at capturing something new, but that it still reminded you of what was.
And I have to admit, there were moments where I was like, “Oh really? Really?” But then when I would listen as to why, I just found myself saying, “Okay, you’re right, you’re right.” So, it is different, but it had to be.
A: I think one of the biggest changes are the quotes from Mrs. Who, which obviously you know, in 2018 there’s so many other sources to draw inspiration from, and in the books it’s a lot more literary inspired, and biblically inspired. And you were borrowing from a lot of things. And I was really excited to hear the Lin-Manuel Miranda quote at the end. What was it like kind of redefining all the sources that that character is able to pull things from?
C: It was very exciting and lots of fun. And a lot of hard work. You know, it was a lot of hard work trying to figure out not just the quote, but is the quote saying the right thing in the moment?
And so it was a lot of hard work, a lot of fun. And I think we tried to mix in a couple of quotes from the book. It’s not like we abandoned all of them, but we just added to them. You have to remember Madeleine L’Engle was born in 1918, so her references come from schooling in the ’30s. So I think absolutely we had to rethink, they had to have resonance for kids today.
A: The book published in 1962, and our site’s mostly on Disney history, I know that Walt Disney was very on top of what’s popular, and what are kids reading, and taking those in. To your knowledge, did Walt Disney every actually read A Wrinkle in Time before he passed away?
C: So you know my story about Walt Disney?
A: I don’t.
C: Oh my gosh.
A: But please tell it.
C: So, I was a little girl, and I read A Wrinkle in Time, and I loved it. Loved it, loved it. And I started a letter to Walt Disney, to tell him about it, because I didn’t know if he knew about it, and I thought he would love it too. And I wanted to play Meg. And I started this letter and I didn’t finish it. And I was too shy. You know? Too shy.
About two years later, he died. And the day that he died, I was very upset, and very guilty that I had not told him about A Wrinkle in Time. And now I knew nobody else that made movies for children, other than Mr. Disney. And I made a promise to myself, that I would grow up and make it into a movie.
C: And that’s what my journey has always been. To make good on that promise to that young girl.
A: It’s so fitting that both adaptations that you’ve worked on have been with Disney involved.
C: I know, right? It’s really funny. So it was always about getting Mr. Disney to make this movie. So it’s kind of weird really, that it ends up that it is Mr. Disney, you know, his legacy that makes this movie.
A: Yeah. I recently, when I reacclimated myself with the work, I did it through the Audible audiobook that has Ava DuVernay’s forward, and she talked too, about what this meant to her as a kid, and then also at the screening last night, and today in the press conference, talking about what it means to not only bring it to the screen, but do it in a way that it’s inclusive, and representing people that you don’t often see on the screen. And certainly, A Wrinkle in Time is kind of a story about opening your mind and broadening your horizon. Very important of these times. But how did you end up brought back onto the project with Ava as the director?
C: It’s the heroine’s journey. Absolutely had to have a heroine at the helm. And Ava’s body of work, even while, you know, it’s several films, she knew how to take big ideas, and tell that big story through very human people. And that’s exactly what A Wrinkle in Time is.
And Ava said, she did not have the ties to it from a young girl’s point of view, like Jennifer Lee and I did, when we read it as children. So she came at it very different, and very much respectful, and you know, appreciated that we brought this childlike vision to it. But she wanted to push it to the 21st century. And I have to tell you, when she started making these changes, ideas, what was in my mind, was that Madeleine L’Engle had said to me, the most important line to her in the book, is “Like and equal are not the same thing at all.”
And so, when Ava was making these suggestions, I felt she was embodying the whole idea of “Like and equal are not the same thing at all.” And so I thought that the changes that were occurring, Madeleine would completely understand and embrace.
And so yeah, you know, sometimes I had to say, oh but what about? And I think the conversations made a better blend of book and film. I hope that that is what they also think too. But again, we were reimagining it for a whole new century.
You can see Catherine Hand’s dream project come to life in theaters starting March 9th.
Alex has been blogging about Disney films since 2009 after a lifetime of fandom. He joined the Laughing Place team in 2014 and covers films across all of Disney’s brands, including Star Wars, Marvel, and Fox, in addition to books, music, toys, consumer products, and food. You can hear his voice as a member of the Laughing Place Podcast and his face can be seen on Laughing Place’s YouTube channel where he unboxes stuff.