No one really wants to grow up. Not really. Growing up means responsibilities. It means having to leave the carefree world of childhood behind for a job and bills and marriage and family. Gone are the summer vacations and our ability to drop everything and go on adventures just because our friends asked us to. It’s no longer acceptable to make up imaginary worlds and run around your neighborhood pretending you’re exploring an ancient city. Growing up, for most of us, means trading something we loved for added stress and health problems. Who wants that?
For many, young adult adventure stories provide a level of escapism that allows us to hold on to some aspect of that adventurous, carefree spirit of our youth. We may not be able to leave our lives behind to set off on some dangerous crusade to save our homes or lay waste to an army of bad guys seeking to corrupt our way of life, but we can watch these fictional young people do just that and imagine ourselves in their shoes.
As someone who consumes a great deal of television, film, and literature meant for young adult audiences, I’ve often joked that you know you’ve finally crossed the threshold into true adulthood when you start to identify with the parents more than the kids. It’s that feeling of watching the old Disney movies you still love, but this time realizing that Ariel is a 16-year-old girl and who exactly does she think she is, running off to make a deal with a sea witch? Perhaps, though, the true mark of adulthood isn’t when you realize just how young those young people really are, but when you no longer want to live vicariously through them. You don’t want to go along on their adventures; rather, you want to revel in their successes and maybe help them along the way.
A Wrinkle in Time, the latest film from Disney and director Ava DuVernay, is one such adventure. The film is by no means perfect, as I have already discussed, but there is one avenue in which it does succeed: It truly loves its pre-teen main characters. The film has been criticized by some for focusing a bit too hard on its very young audiences, becoming a great movie for children and a difficult one for adults. While this may be a fair assessment of the film, what’s wrong with that, really? This is a story about a young girl setting out to rescue her father with help from her friend Calvin and her precocious younger brother Charles Wallace. It’s about a 13-year-old girl learning what it takes to be a hero, to be a warrior, and its goal is to inspire other young people to do the same. Why shouldn’t it speak directly to them?
A Wrinkle in Time is about children learning to overcome the cynicism of the adults around them and about recognizing when that dark force starts to work in their peers and themselves. It tells children that they have the power to effect change in a positive way just by being kids. And that’s something we don’t tell young people often enough. As adults, we are much more likely to tell our children that their age means they inherently lack power. They aren’t old enough to understand the complexities of adulthood, the responsibilities. They cannot change the world yet because their voices are not loud enough. They have nothing to say. No one will take them seriously.
Perhaps not. But if you believe the film, kindness, perseverance, and bravery can go a long way toward saving the world.
Maybe it's because this movie came out just as the young people of our nation are coming together to stand for something, setting aside many of their differences to fight for their lives and for something they believe in, but A Wrinkle in Time marks the first time I’ve left a theater not wanting to be the children at the core of the story. Rather, I want to be the adults, the parents, the people in a position to inspire children to be themselves and then get out of the way. It was the first time in my adult life that I’ve wanted to share some of my favorite adventure stories with my own kids, or with other people’s children (since I lack offspring of my own), not to impose myself as the wise and knowing adult figure with all the great recommendations but to spark something in them that could make them the next generation of warriors.
Children will change the world — we just have to let them — and A Wrinkle in Time is, if nothing else, a case for stepping aside and doing just that.