‘A Wrinkle in Time’ offers many positives, but not enough space for its story

“A Wrinkle in Time” – Madeleine L’Engle wrote the science fiction, young adult novel “A Wrinkle in Time” back in 1962, but this critic was not familiar with the source material at all when walking into a Tempe, Arizona movie theatre to see director Ava DuVernay’s film adaptation in 2018.   The movie poster looks engaging though, as a blonde-haired Oprah Winfrey, a red-headed Reese Witherspoon and Mindy Kaling sport appealing, celestial looks, and with the promise of time wrinkling in the film title, some out-of-world concepts are sure to appear big screen horizon. 

DuVernay’s picture is also geared towards young adults, and she fills the fanciful 1-hour 49-minute runtime with good intentions and positive messages that every child (and adult) should embrace. 

Now, Meg Murry (Storm Reid), a 13-year-old junior high student, is certainly in need of an embrace or a hug.  She is miserable and feels left out.  Different, unworthy and less-than.  Meg’s negative mindset is pointed solely towards one event:  her father’s disappearance from four years ago.   Both her mom (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and dad (Chris Pine) are brilliant NASA scientists and working towards the discovery of the universe’s secrets.  Her dad, in fact, believes that time can be folded or wrinkled, and vast distances can be traveled within a few blinks of an eye.  

Wow.  Crazy, right?

Well, one day, Mr. Murry suddenly vanishes, and Meg’s classmates and teachers do not necessarily believe that her dad is traveling through space, but simply left his family.  Quite frankly, one might wonder why children would regularly poke and jab at Meg’s single-parent soft spot, because a sole guardian raising kids is somewhat commonplace today.  Then again, L’Engle’s book was published 56 years ago. 

Of course, 56 years ago, 1962 movie special effects might not do justice to the wonder scribed in the novel, but with Walt Disney Studios at the helm in 2018, these visual-bases are covered.   It is up to Meg and her 6-year-old brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe) to find their dad, and Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling) and Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey) chaperone the kids on their journey.   The three offer oodles of wisdom, with Mrs. Whatsit delivering most of the nicely-timed comedic moments.  Mrs. Who is especially good at reciting famous quotes as her only patterns of speech, and Mrs. Which captains this celestial ship, but without an actual vehicle.  The six (including a boy named Calvin (Levi Miller), who has a crush on Meg) learn to tesser, which can send them across the galaxies by wishing for it via their mind’s eye. 

Pretty cool trick.  I would certainly appreciate this skill set, especially during Oscar time or the NCAA Final Four, but I digress.

They find some trippy places, where yellow flowers collectively run and float across a new planet’s countryside.  Another dreamy/nightmarish locale includes beaches and housing subdivisions appearing out of nowhere, but the film’s CGI does not reach “Avatar” or Marvel Studios heights.  Everything certainly feels computer generated, but then again, the fanciful concepts do inspire, and thinking about the target audience (preteens and teens), well, Disney may or may not have hit the bulls-eye.

The film does contain two pretty terrifying sequences that could really frighten younger kids, especially when our heroes meet the main antagonist, The It!  No one wants to meet The It, but this enemy is not just a single entity, but it could internally manifest in any of us.  Ultimately, the movie’s positive message-metaphors – about staying true to (and loving) one’s self – are the main strengths, and they leave moviegoers with encouraging and hopeful life lessons and reminders.  The Mrs. Triad of Whatsit/Who/Which tender commanding moral compasses and cinematic fun too.  Witherspoon is particularly likable here, and Oprah runs this operation with a steady hand.  Reid is very capable as Meg, but little Deric McCabe holds zero fear and is a wonderful scene-stealing, crowd-pleasing revelation!   

The film’s main problem (and this is not a revelation for novel-to-film adaptations): there is too much story crammed into 109 minutes, and this issue manifests in several ways. 

Not enough time is dedicated to Meg’s relationship with her parents and her struggles in school, and Calvin barely captures any screen time, before he decides to tag along – across the universe – with the Murry children.   The celestial adventures include three stops, but they feel like abbreviated, condensed trips with much more pomp and circumstance and nuance reserved for just the novel. 

With a universe of infinite size, this moviegoer felt a bit shortchanged, and a two-part film with plenty of space for the narrative and other celestial locations might have been a more satisfying direction.  Still, DuVernay’s good intentions and the across-the-board solid performances bear cinematic fruit, as this weird journey with positive ideas provides a wonderful reminder:  Although we might not travel to the outer reaches of the universe, putting our best foot forward is always the most prudent first step. 

I like it…mostly.

⭐⭐ 1/2   out of   ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Image credits:  Walt Disney Studios; Trailer credits: Disney Movie Trailers (YouTube)

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