I'm a child of the '80s, and let me tell ya, it was an adventurous time to be a kid – at least, according to the movies. Spoiler alert: we never actually rode any luckdragons name Falkor, but I do have it on good authority that The Goonies, indeed, never said die. Still, these fantastical tales encouraged us to be imaginative and, more importantly, they taught us believe in ourselves, especially during times of darkness.
Did I mention darkness?
After the '80s, these kinds of movies were few and far between. Kids movies still exist, of course, and they are full of the hardships that children must face. But you don't get those '80s, live action, disturbing visuals much these days – at least, not in family-friendly flicks. But I'm talking about those bizarre, dark concepts, where kids fought against the embodiment of negativity, went toe to toe against literal darkness and had villains like quote, "The Nothing," end quote.
Which brings me to Ava DuVernay's A Wrinkle in Time. One of the things I'd heard about the movie was that it's unclear of who the movie was made for. It's kinda dark for a kid's movie, but kinda heavy-handed with its feel-good message, so it can't be for teens or adults, right? After watching it and getting through all my #RepresentationMatters sobbing, I realized that it's very much a kid's film, we just haven't seen one like this in a while. The '80s kid in me recognized the formula of, "You must venture to this new world and it is beautiful... except this part, don't go to that part, oh you're going to that part, aren't you?"
Our heroine, Meg, sets off on a quest to find her father – after a bit of persuasion from three astronomical beings, which is par for the average afternoon. She travels to worlds that exist far beyond our comprehension, accompanied by her brother, Charles Wallace, and her classmate/boy who's obviously crushing on her, Calvin. Everything's all green and beautiful until they come across... It, a literal personification of self-doubt, negativity, and all things evil.
Once the kids get to the dark planet, things get really unsettling. The peaceful, suburban neighborhood is probably the most disturbing, at least to me, because it plays at what our heroine wants. She's searching for her father to try and make her home complete, so watching kids playing at the end of their driveways while perfectly dressed moms call them into the house for dinner is... uncomfortably weird. But that's exactly what '80s kids movies used to do. They'd take a nice thing and twist it into nightmare fuel. The beach? Unsettling. That sandwich? A trap. That red-eyed man? Well... that one's kinda obvious, but there's always a few, "Don't follow the stranger," moments in these.
Then there's the big bad itself, the darkness that speaks to you and beats you down to get you to submit, and really, that's the most frightening thing about movies like this. The baddie isn't a person, but a concept that wants to consume you, and we as adults know kids will have to try and overcome this thing for the rest of their lives. It'd be much easier if it were a villain you could just stab with a sword, but it's an entity whose sole purpose is to drain the hope right out of you. Now when I say it like that, it sounds kinda cheesy... or like the end of Kingdom Hearts (which is technically rated E for everyone). But that's how kids movies worked back then. They spelled out the message because kids needed to hear it.
Before writing this piece, I spoke to a good friend of mine about the movie and the idea of it being "too dark" for kids. She then pointed out something that really spoke to me: children can handle the dark better than adults because for them, there's always a light at the end of the tunnel. They still have space left for heroes and justice. They still believe. And really, that's the crux of every great kid's movie. If their optimism has been shaken, the point of the journey is to remember the time where they believed. And at the end of the day, they make it through, and they, as this movie's tagline says, "Become Warriors."
... but I'm still gonna be side-eyeing pristine, suburban neighborhoods for a while.