Jennifer Lee On Adapting ‘A Wrinkle In Time’ And The Latest On ‘Frozen 2’

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By the time the sequel comes out next year, it will have been a full six years since Frozen, which Jennifer Lee wrote and co-directed with Chris Buck, took over the world as we know it. Right now, details of the sequel’s plot remain slim (Lee gives us some vague hints) but ahead she does let us know that there’s a good chance its current title of Frozen 2 won’t be what its called when it released into theaters.

But before Frozen 2, or whatever it will be called, dominates our lives next year, we’ll see Ava DuVernay’s Lee-scripted new film, A Wrinkle in Time, based on Madeleine L’Engle’s extremely popular 1962 novel – a novel that’s been labeled “unfilmable.” (It’s been tried once before with a 2003 television movie. L’Engle was notably not a fan.) In the book and film, Young Meg Murry (Storm Reid) hasn’t seen her father (Chris Pine) in four years after he mysteriously disappeared one evening. Three supernatural travelers (Oprah Winfrey, Mindy Kaling, Reese Witherspoon) try to guide Meg (along with her younger brother and a classmate) on an interstellar adventure to find her father.

Ahead, Lee breaks down why A Wrinkle in Time is such a difficult book to adapt for the screen and why she decided to leave out a lot of the book’s explicitly Christian themes. And she explains why she decided to make a sequel to Frozen after, at first, saying it would never happen.

A Wrinkle in Time is one of those books that’s gotten the “unfilmable” label. It was getting to A Confederacy of Dunces level…

That’s funny…

Do you like that as a challenge? Or is, “Oh, this is very filmable, you should have no problem,” better?

You know, we joke at Disney that if there’s a problem, I love getting into the idea of how can we solve that. So in my nature, I get excited by identifying the problem – and even if I have the worst idea in the world – I like the process of doing that. But I think, with this, it was my love of the book and what would I want to see and what would I want to feel. And for me, I knew why it was hard. Structurally, I could see where it was difficult in terms of the approaches, thematically. All of those things were why I understood why there were issues.

I frankly felt more charged about this than anything, because I identified with Meg so much as an awkward person who couldn’t seem to get things right a lot in her life. I love cosmology and physics and the science of this. The themes were so extraordinary and complex to me – and, honestly, we’re applying to life today in many ways. So, for me, it was seeing I could relate to a lot of elements in the book and that could help me to feel my way in. But, I recognize how challenging it is and I knew, “don’t try to be the book,” and don’t be afraid to try to evoke the feeling of the book. But in a way that speaks to audiences today or gives it that freshness that you feel when you read it for the first time.

The book is pretty open about its Christian ideals and the movie doesn’t directly reference them. As a fan of the book how do you approach that aspect?

What I looked at, one of the reasons Madeleine L’Engle – as I’ve been told; I never got to meet her – but one of the reasons it had that strong Christian element to it wasn’t just because she was Christian, but because she was frustrated with things that needed to be said to her in the world and she wasn’t finding a way to say it and she wanted to stay true to her faith. And I respect that and I understand those feelings of things you want to say in the world that need to be said that are out there. In a good way, I think there are a lot of elements of what she wrote that we have progressed as a society and we can move onto the other elements. In a sad way, some of the other elements are more important right now and bigger – sort of this fight of light against darkness. It’s a universal thing and timeless and seems to be a battle that has to keep being had.

It also feels like this is a movie that celebrates inclusiveness and diversity, so having it be about one religious denomination wouldn’t really be keeping with that theme. Does that make sense?

It does. And I can’t put words in her mouth – and I worked with one of our producers, Catherine Hand, who was very close to her – but that wasn’t her intention. Her intention was looking at the ordinary real hero in an extraordinary situation. The power of love in this world, and we stayed very true to that. And her lens through it was Christianity and everyone has a different lens in. And that’s what inclusiveness is to me in this film, is really looking at all of us have a role to play in this no matter where we come from or what we look like.

Obviously, you know the book very well, but when approaching this script, what did you know from the start would be the most challenging part?

For me, actually, the biggest challenge was much more craft space, in terms of the emotional through lens of the story. You can go in and out of the narrative in different ways in the book. Even the concept of visuals I knew would be a challenge. But for me, I knew it was more looking at what you need in a film to anchor it emotionally and really tapping into this girl and how she feels about herself and this feeling of abandonment with her father. Mr. Murry has very few scenes in the book and he’s much more fleshed out here, as is the mother – so it’s looking at the lens of a real family as my anchor. And a lot of that, in some ways, you think is in the book and it wasn’t. It was evoked, but it wasn’t there. And so it’s making the dad less of a MacGuffin and more a critical part of her journey.

An example, I was really inspired listening to Zach Galifianakis talk about it today, about making the Happy Medium a man and in the book he’s a woman. And the reason for that, to me, was because it was a moment to truly anchor her in her wants and her fears about her father – and someone who didn’t act like a father figure in the first place, evolve into one in that scene and show and give her the confidence to move on, just to the next step and admit what she’s most afraid of. Those kinds of decisions and those kind of things in the crafting of it were by far the greatest challenges. The book has a great structure and all of that great character potential, but it was how to make it cinematic.

Frozen 2 comes out next year. Reading about how the sequel came about, it does appear a lot of thought and care went into it as opposed to, “Let’s just do another.” And it will have been six years…

I hope so! I mean, that’s exactly why we were inspired to do it, not because we were asked to. In fact, we were like, “never.” And then we sat down one day and I said, “I thought of this one thing.” And we started talking and we realized there was a whole aspect of the journey left to be told. And we regrounded ourselves in the characters and it’s always what we have to do. And we are building it from inside out again, not from outside in. And that takes longer and it’s very thoughtful and is kind of the reason I love doing it – all of what we are doing and talking and wrestling with as we go?

Will it actually be called Frozen 2? Nothing is just “2” anymore…

[Laughs.] I don’t know. Every day we change our mind. You can laugh the day we finally release the title because you’ll know, “This is the day they finally landed on this side of that.”

You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.