From director Ava DuVernay and “Frozen” screenwriter Jennifer Lee, comes Walt Disney Studio’s adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s classic book “A Wrinkle in Time.”
Meg Murry (Storm Reid) is the brilliant daughter of two talented physicists who, along with her even more brilliant younger adopted brother Charles Wallace ((Deric McCabe,) looks to have the perfect family life until her father abruptly vanishes. Four years later and her apparent state of abandonment has taken its toll on Meg who is angry, resentful, self-loathing, and subject to bullying by teachers and students alike at her school.
One night, she discovers that Charles Wallace has been in contact for awhile with three powerful and otherworldly beings–Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey) and Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling)–who believe Meg’s father (Chris Pine) disappeared as a result of his discovery of tessering, which is a method of instantaneous travel based on frequency waves. They offer to help find him, and soon Meg, Charles Wallace, and Meg’s earnest admirer/schoolmate Calvin O’Keefe (Levi Miller) are tessering from planet to planet searching for clues as to his whereabouts.
Ultimately, what was a search party eventually turns into a rescue party, and Meg must use all her theoretical knowledge and strength of will to face down negative forces from without and within if she is to return home with her family intact.
The book “A Wrinkle in Time” has a complex and abstract storyline that has already defied successful adaptation once in a poorly-received made-for-TV movie in 2003. I read the book when I was little and remember it being conceptually difficult with a reasonable amount of it spent explaining the theoretical physics behind what was pretty obviously magic. Even with the access to the characters’ internal thoughts that one has in a book and does not in a film, the actions and resolution were a little confusing to my seven-year-old understanding.
The film does a pretty good job of streamlining the dense plot, but almost falls to the other extreme of abbreviating the children’s journey to the point of robbing it of impact. They travel to visually arresting planets and land in situations both creepy and bucolic, but often leave with barely an interaction with their surroundings. One of the more striking scenes from the book is when the kids arrive on the corrupted planet of Camazotz where everyone looks, acts, and thinks exactly the same. In what some feel is an allegory of 1960s communism, the evil force of “IT” explains how much better life is when everyone is of one Borg-like hive mind and there is no conflict because there are no conflicting points of view. For Meg in the book, this is a teachable moment where she learns to discard her earlier dreams of being able to be just like everyone else. In the film, while Meg clearly doesn’t like who she is, her sense of individuality seems pretty strong even at the beginning, so it’s hard to know how significant the scene is for her.
The characters too suffer a little from the necessity of condensing a book down to a screenplay. I vaguely remember Calvin in the book as having some specific part in helping the mission along–here, there really isn’t much time to develop the character into more than an ego boost for Meg, much like the traditional female role might be for a male protagonist. We are constantly told that Charles Wallace is one of the greatest minds of our time, but hardly get to see him do anything more than an extroverted schoolchild would do normally. (The fact that in the theater I saw it, it was difficult to make out what McCabe was yelling at times probably didn’t help.) Similarly the three “Mrs.” Whatsit, Who, and Which have barely enough screen time to make distinct impressions (rude, quotations, Oprah.) It’s a shame that they aren’t used more, considering how interesting they are and how prominently they’re featured in the advertising.
But the movie is beautifully done and has a nice empowering message for young girls. The parts of the film on Earth have a kind of dreamy contemporary feel, similar to that of the 2016 “Pete’s Dragon” remake, and the concept of the kids getting recruited to visit a different space/time to fight evil reminded me somewhat of the 2015 “Tomorrowland.” If you enjoyed those movies, or if you read and liked the book, or if you’re ok with a little plot ambiguity, you should give this one a try.
“A Wrinkle in Time” is presented by Walt Disney Studios. Rated PG, it stars Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Michael PeÅˆa and introducing Storm Reid with Zach Galifianakis and Chris Pine.
Directed by Ava DuVernay and produced by Jim Whitaker, and Catherine Hand. Executive Producered by Doug Merrifield . Screenplay by Jennifer Lee, based upon the novel by Madeleine L’Engle.
The film entered general release on March 9, 2018.