Lots of young readers have been waiting for a film version of the Madeleine L’Engle book “A Wrinkle in Time.” There might be even more adults, those who have read it as kids since its publication in 1962. Actually, this is the second time Disney has made the film; the first was a TV production shot in 2003, but not shown till 2004, then buried on the ABC schedule, and not seen by a wide audience.
This version, with a cast of newcomer youngsters and established adult actors, boasts a bigger budget, and has no qualms about regularly deviating from the book.
Remaining at its center is the 12-year-old protagonist Meg (a great performance by Storm Reid) who, though once a happy little girl with an interest in science that she shared with her brilliant dad (Chris Pine), has gone glum, and is just getting by in school. This all started after her dad, running experiments in “tessering,” or finding shortcuts through time and space, vanished four years earlier, leaving her and her young brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe) and their scientist mom (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) to helplessly wonder what happened.
A knock on their door one rainy night introduces the first of the film’s oddball characters, the chatty, ditsy Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), a stranger who makes herself at home. That knock also brings on the first of the film’s incoherencies and, following in the book’s often confusing path, failures to explain what’s going on. The too-cute, shrill-voiced (and sometimes hard to understand) Charles Wallace knows Mrs. Whatsit well, though no one else does. Who is she and what does she want? Sorry, no explanation.
The next day, Calvin (Levi Miller), an acquaintance of Meg’s, shows up for reasons HE can’t understand, and when the three kids pass by an abandoned house, Charles Wallace insists that they go inside, where only he knows another weirdo, Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling), whose dialogue consists of other people’s words, as if she’s memorized “Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations.”
A few moments are spent on a flashback of mom and dad doing a presentation on quantum physics and inter-dimensional travel, and being ridiculed by their peers, then its back to meeting another odd woman, Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey), who materializes in the sky, floats earthward, and ends up being 30 feet tall when she alights. And, yes, the little kid knows her, too.
“Who are you?” asks Meg.
“I am a part of the universe,” says Mrs. Which, with much solemnity.
One of the women (I couldn’t keep track) follows that up with, “We believe your father is alive, somewhere out in the universe. We’re here to help you find him.”
It’s around there that the film’s bottom falls out. Amidst cheesy visual effects (a major disappointment in a Disney project) after the women and the kids “tesser” to another world, there’s some unspecific stuff about a “force of darkness” that’s either holding Meg’s father or will become a threat to the world, and blatant messages about jealousy, patience, despair, and good judgment. It’s really difficult to follow any linear storyline.
An enjoyable appearance by an obviously improvising Zach Galifianakis as The Happy Medium makes for a brief reprieve in the confusion, at least until it’s clear that his character makes very little sense. Then the women announce that they’re losing their powers, and the kids must continue on their own. Wait, why are they losing their powers? I just don’t know. Neither will anyone understand why the kids stumble into a suburban neighborhood that’s populated by the casts of “Village of the Damned” and “The Stepford Wives.”
This is a movie for very young viewers who will be satisfied with its bright colors and visual effects, but won’t wonder about what’s going on. It’s a case of disjointed, slapdash filmmaking. The preposterous conclusion, in which all is right with the family and the world and the universe, is unearned.
— Ed Symkus writes about movies for More Content Now. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“A Wrinkle in Time”
Written by Jennifer Lee and Jeff Stockwell; directed by Ava DuVernay
With Storm Reid, Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Chris Pine