Director Ava DuVernay takes a giant leap across space and time and into the world of studio blockbuster filmmaking with this week’s A Wrinkle In Time, an adaptation of the beloved young adult book by Madeleine L’Engle. As befitting a filmmaker such as herself, the story comes to the screen with a few tweaks and adjustments made to bring the story out of the early 1960s and into the late 2010’s, where a much different cultural attitude is (largely) in place.
The story follows Meg (Storm Reid), who lives with her mom (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and brother Charles (Deric McCabe). When she learns that her father (Chris Pine), who disappeared under mysterious circumstances years ago) is being held captive by an intergalactic evil force she sets out to find and free him. To do that she’ll need the help of not only Charles but also her friend Calvin (Levi Miller). It also means the child heroes will need the guidance and encouragement of a trio of enigmatic women known as Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling), Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey) and Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon).
The first one-sheet shows an average suburban California street (we can tell because of the palm trees) with Meg standing on the street. But the whole image is distorted like it’s being projected on a curtain that’s cracked open a bit at the bottom to show she’s actually standing in a field of grass. That conveys clearly that the action will span our own world and one that lies hidden.
The next poster shows Meg, Calvin and all the rest of the characters, including the oracles played by Winfrey, Witherspoon and Kaling, looking down at the camera from what seems to be the sides of a diamond or other surface. In the middle is Meg, positioned as the central figure in the story, or at least the one everyone is interested in.
A series of four posters gave a closer look at Meg and the three Mrs., each one reaching out as reality distorts around and in front of them.
Another series of character posters was split into two groups of three. In one, Meg and her parents are shown individually, each one with eyes open looking up toward the light. In the other, the three Mrs. are shown with closed eyes but peaceful, calm expressions as the light shines on them.
You have to stop and take a moment to realize what a big deal these posters actually represent. Out of six posters and six different characters there’s only two white people and only one white guy. That’s a *massive* change from almost any other sci-fi or fantasy film (or “mainstream” film in general) and shows a real commitment to presenting an inclusive cast. Just fantastic.
Three more posters promoted IMAX, Regal Cinemas and Dolby at AMC screenings. All took slightly different approaches to doing so but all three continued the idea of distorting the image while still showing off the cast and maintaining the colorful brand identity built up for the film to date.
The first trailer starts out with Dr. Murry asking others to imagine a world bigger than their own where all sorts of wonderful things can happen. It soon becomes clear that world is real but there are dangers involved, dangers he seems to unlock. Meg and Calvin are soon caught up in trying to rescue her father, with Mrs. Which telling Meg she’s the only one who can stop that darkness. We see some of the opponents she’ll face along the way and that’s about it.
The trailer is great at showing the look and feel of the story. It’s clear a ton of thought and care has gone into the costuming and design work here to create a fantastic world that’s unlike our own. While the story might seem a bit familiar as yet another take on the “chosen one” idea, we’re promised an execution that has something original behind it.
We get a lot more backstory on Meg in the next trailer, learning early on that her dad disappeared while trying to prove the existence of other universes. She and her mother explain that to Calvin as we see they’re sucked into one of those other universes. They’re being recruited to fight a massive battle against the encroaching forces of darkness, which puts them into all sorts of dangerous situations.
Online and Social
The three Mrs. appear in a banner at the top of the movie’s official website, accompanied by a large “Get Tickets” button. Scroll down on the page and you’ll be able to watch the trailer, check out a very small gallery of stills, read a few features with the cast and download some GIFs of the Mrs. There’s also a list of the promotional partner companies that joined with Disney.
That’s about it, unfortunately. The official Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles aren’t linked to from the site. Nor is there any information on the source book or anything that would have encouraged the young audience to explore more scientific or mathematical concepts or anything else. Seems like a missed opportunity, especially since Disney has in the past used its movie sites to offer more opportunities to learn about the themes and environments of its movies.
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
TV advertising essentially kicked-off with a spot that aired during the Golden Globes broadcast. The message to the audience was that the movie was filled with huge action sequences and amazing visuals, while little of the story was actually shared. There’s a small amount of new footage but it’s basically what had already been seen in the trailers, just in a tighter package. Another new commercial was aired during the Grammys broadcast in January that focused on Meg being the chosen one and the dangers she encounters while searching for her father. Later on a new spot introduced us to “The IT,” the dark force that’s threatening existence in the story.
Disney promoted the movie through the Noovie pre-show package fro National CineMedia with clips, behind-the-scenes footage and more.
Brands that got on board with some cross-promotion included:
- Crate & Barrel, which sponsored the livestream of the movie’s premiere red carpet event.
- Nissan, which designed three custom Leaf cars with interactive windows and looks inspired by the three Mrs. It also created a campaign looking for the next great filmmaker, which had its own Leaf tie in.
- Alex and Ani, which launched a line of movie-inspired jewelry.
- Elizabeth Arden, which seems to have been involved in some manner with the various photoshoots and other events the stars were part of and might have run an influencer campaign, though I can’t confirm that.
- W Hotels, which in addition to being part of the Nissan filmmaker talent search above involved DuVernay in its What She Said campaign.
Nissan, HP, JetBlue, Black Girls Code and others were part of the “Warriors Who Code Challenge,” which was part of a bigger effort to encourage coding and other STEM activities among girls, particularly girls of color. There was also an event with Google scheduled for the day after this post goes live with the cast and crew talking about getting more girls involved with computer science. Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls also did its thing.
Various videos were used as promoted posts on Twitter and Facebook. Twitter also created themed hashtag emojis for all three of the Mrs., DuVernay herself and the movie. You could also use iMessage stickers.
Media and Publicity
While it wasn’t about the film directly, there was some nice press for it when everyone realized DuVernay would be the first black woman to direct a movie with a budget over $100 million. Shortly after that the movie got a nice shoutout in a joint interview between DuVernay and Oprah Winfrey, the latter of whom makes an appearance in the movie and who has now worked with the director on multiple projects.
One of the first big pops of publicity came in EW’s special Comic-Con issue, which included first-look stills and interviews with some of the cast to talk about the movie. At SDCC itself Disney had a huge street team out with balls like the kids seen in the creepy suburbia.
A later story would have Reid praising her director and talking about how important it was to play a character of color like this.
Much of the cast and crew, including DuVernay, Winfrey, Witherspoon and others, were part of a sizable feature interview that talked about the long road the movie took to production and how DuVernay in particular never expected to be handed the keys to such an epic, fantastic story. They also all talked about the director’s insistence on an inclusive cast. That hit around the same time as a much-talked-about featurette including the cast talking about working with DuVerneay and the director herself talking about the kind of movie she wanted to make.
How DuVerney worked with the cast and the place the story fits into this cultural moment of women, people of color and the fight against oppressive tyranny were the focus of another profile of the director as well as an interview where she conveyed a refreshing “zero cares given” attitude about the whole thing. Oprah got a few interviews like this one on her own where she talked about how she created the right mix of personalities for the character she plays.
As with Black Panther a few weeks ago, there were multiple campaigns and efforts setup to help underprivileged kids see the movie, all of which created a number of heartwarming and inspirational stories.
I want to go back to what I said when discussing the posters: That it’s a tad unbelievable that women – and women of color – are being put so brazenly at the forefront of the marketing campaign for a fantasy/science fiction film. That’s so great to see as it represents a big shift in who Hollywood sees as the audience for these kinds of films. Combined with the Black Panther push, it seems that staid, conservative Disney is going to lead from the front in terms of inclusivity on film, particularly when it comes to genre films, which have traditionally been a white guys only club and whose surviving members are probably twisting themselves into knots at all this social warrior justice activity being shoved down their throats. I hope they choke on it.
There are some mild quibbles I could make with the campaign – I wanted more of Meg’s story that didn’t just involve her running away from CGI destruction – but you can’t argue with the overall message, which is that smart girls are going to save the day. That’s what’s being conveyed here and it’s…like…super-different from anything else that’s being peddled out there right now.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.
PICKING UP THE SPARE
Great stuff here about how Ava DuVernay immediately sought to make the lead of the story someone who looked different than the usual fantasy film lead, found star Storm Reid and was trying to be more optimistic and hopeful with the story.
Reid gets her own profile based on her breakout performance.
Some of the movie’s posters out in the real, physical world have been part of a test by Facebook of a new augmented reality experience based on trackers. In this case those add effects like those seen in the movie to the poster.
It seems Disney used the tactic of pairing this movie, which is already on home video, with The Incredibles 2 at drive-in theaters around the country to help it eek past the $100m mark.