Hollywood Flashback: Disney's First 'Wrinkle in Time' Fell Flat in 2004

Ava DuVernay's star-studded adaptation, hitting theaters Friday, isn't the first time the book has been brought to the screen: Alfre Woodard and Alison Elliott starred in the ABC television movie, which author Madeleine L'Engle said met her expectations: "I expected it to be bad and it is."
ABC/Photofest

Madeleine L'Engle's 1962 science-fantasy novel A Wrinkle in Time might be beloved, but its filmed adaptations haven't gotten much love from The Hollywood Reporter.

Critic Todd McCarthy offers a less-than-glowing opinion of the new Disney version directed by Ava DuVernay and starring Oprah Winfrey (see page 89). But his review is sparkling compared to the shellacking the 2004 TV movie received from Ray Richmond. If a critic notes in his opening sentence that he's "a huge fan" of the original work, watch out.

A few paragraphs later, Richmond is calling the ABC presentation that starred Alfre Woodard and Alison Elliott "hopelessly convoluted, esoteric and just plain weird." The critic says the adaptation, shelved for three years, "keeps going and going and going, making sense only intermittently." The coup de grace comes in a mention of the then-in-production Harry Potter film and says Wrinkle is what it "might look and sound like in the wrong hands."

But the movie got a Writers Guild nomination for best children's script, and screenwriter Susan Shilliday says she has "no regrets" about the project. "It's a beloved book, and maybe beloved books should never be adapted," says Shilliday, who now owns a bookstore in Montague, Massachusetts. "Many writers had taken this on over the years and when I came along, the late, great Frank Pierson [the Oscar-winning screenwriter of Dog Day Afternoon] said to me, 'Oh, you're the latest victim of A Wrinkle in Time.'"

Just before the film aired, Newsweek ran an interview with the then-85- year-old L'Engle (she died three years later). When asked if she'd seen the TV movie, the author said she'd "glimpsed it." And when asked if it met her expectations, she replied: "Oh, yes. I expected it to be bad and it is."

This story first appeared in the March 7 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.