Last weekend I saw the 2018 movie adaptation of A Wrinkle In Time with my wife and her mother. We all liked the film, although I'm pretty strongly of the opinion that it is aimed at, and will be best received by, younger viewers. Adults may well find it too hokey and illogical, but then again the original book was criticized on exactly those grounds as well. Which got me thinking: how different a standard should we have for works aimed at younger audiences vs. those aimed at "all" audiences?
Some time back I rewatched one of Studio Ghibli's productions, Whisper Of The Heart, about a girl on the cusp of teenager-dom coping with an unexpected emotional involvement with a boy around her age. It appeals most directly to people the same age as the protagonist, but the filmmakers also worked in elements that were likely to appeal to older viewers as well. When they said all ages, they meant it: childhood, adolescence, adulthood, old age. All of them are reflected by and embodied in different characters in the film. Wrinkle is a little more unabashedly aimed at a pre-teen to early-teen audience, and makes that many less concessions to adults who aren't already sold on the story's mythos.
Does that mean Whisper is the "better" film? I guess you could make such an argument, but only if you have a need to stack-rank movies in some absolute order. I am personally more endeared of one film over the other, and I could use that to fuel any number of arguments about said film's purported superiority. But my sense of endearment is more about which came first and why, and revolves around highly subjective criteria that don't translate well into workable objective criticism. Such things don't generate much useful insight, and they aren't even all that good for recommendations either.
Here's my take, anyway, because I'm going to build from it to another idea. Whisper has more to offer a broader audience that isn't just tweens, but Wrinkle is more unabashedly fantastic, more willing to address big ideas and big themes in a format that's comprehensible to younger viewers. They aim for different things. I think you can even make a similar argument for how Wrinkle stacks up against other films of the fantastic from Ghibli's catalog: they aren't the same kind of fantastic, or to the same end. I guess it comes down to whether you like your fantasy in an exhortational and inspirational vein, or not. Or what kind of fantasy you want in that vein.
When I was younger, I was pretty conscious of the fact that some things were created specifically for kids, and other things were not. That isn't to say the latter were created to keep kids out, just that whether or not kids would be interested in them wasn't a primary consideration. That implied to me that they necessarily worked in a different way, because they would play some things down and emphasize others. Whether they would still be palatable or coherent later in life wasn't a consideration. Likewise, the things that were created specifically for kids weren't created specifically to keep adults out, but sometimes that was a by-product of what you ended up with.
But because we all grow up anyway, whether we like it or not, maybe we have no choice but to see the universality of something — how well it plays for both kids and not-kids — as the greatest ultimate measure of its quality. Whether that measure is universally valid is another story, though. So maybe the real question is, how well can any given adult see what there is in something that's aimed at kids? And maybe under that is another question: why this fixation on what is absolutely better, or what is the best-of?
New York City
Other Lives Of The Mind