Madeleine L’Engle’s classic book has become a cornerstone of fantasy literature since its publishing in 1962. The first book, A Wrinkle in Time, was followed by four other novels, completing L’Engle’s Time Quintet. Almost 50 years later, director Ava Duvernay presents the first blockbuster adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time.
The film focuses on Meg Murry (Storm Reid) and her search for her lost father, Dr. Alex Murry (Chris Pine). Since her father’s disappearance four years ago, Meg has become withdrawn. She is bullied and acts out at school. It is clear that Meg is a very good kid, but she appears to have lost her way. She is buoyed by her younger brother, Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe) and her mother Dr. Kate Murry (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). Charles Wallace is a prodigious genius, as well as boundlessly kind and optimistic.
A Wrinkle in Time spends, ironically, little time on its initial set-up. Perhaps 10 minutes into the film, the Murry house is visited by Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), and in practically the next scene, Meg, Charles Wallace, and Meg’s friend Calvin O’Keefe (Levi Miller) are starting their journey across space to find Meg’s father. They are accompanied by three astral presences, the aforementioned Mrs. Whatsit, along with Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling) and Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey). These three have the ability to “tesser,” that is, to create a tesseract. This allows them to “wrinkle” time and space, facilitating travel across galaxies in the blink of an eye. The group tessers to a faraway planet called Uriel, where the children are apprised of the danger that appears to have captured Dr. Murry. An evil presence is spreading throughout the universe, called The It. The It has taken over a planet called Camazotz, where Dr. Murry is imprisoned. The children are sent there in order to save him.
A Wrinkle in Time is a very good children’s movie. Unfortunately, it is a little too hollow for everyone else. The movie is wonderfully colorful and vibrant, full of interesting creatures and settings, but all of this seems to appear only to push the characters from one set piece to the next. At one point, the group goes to visit The Happy Medium (Zach Galifinakis) in order to find out Dr. Murry’s exact whereabouts. A Wrinkle in Time glosses over much of the apparent purpose of this visit so that the Medium can impart words of encouragement to Meg. Many other scenes are also apparently presented only for the purpose of advising or encouraging Meg while a spectacularly interesting set exists in the background.
This all goes to say that, while A Wrinkle in Time is 109 minutes, it could have done with more length. The movie doesn’t seem to have the time to connect its wonderful world building with the character development it is pushing. Both exist aplenty in the movie, but they appear almost separately. The performances are all very genuine and enjoyable, but they don’t have much to connect to or ground them. Everyone does a very good job with his or her character. The child actors are surprisingly talented: their emotions and actions are real and believable.
The movie pushes a very uplifting message of love, self-acceptance, and family, but again everything feels too rushed to be more than an average kids movie. Instead, A Wrinkle in Time comes off as a little forced and clichéd with its message.
Watching A Wrinkle in Time, most of this isn’t readily apparent. Between the vibrant colors, the exciting performances of the actors, and the quick movement from one scene to the next, A Wrinkle in Time flies by and is a pretty enjoyable movie. But, after exiting the theater and stopping to consider the movie, it becomes clear that there isn’t much else there. A Wrinkle in Time doesn’t survive anything deeper than a surface-level examination. For a children’s movie, this isn’t a bad thing. It is, however, a little disappointing to watch a high-quality fantasy book be reduced to this sort of essence.
Fans of the book will likely be disappointed by other things as well. The movie changes a number of things—some of these changes make sense, others don’t.
First, Meg’s other brothers, Sandy and Dennys, are entirely absent from the movie. This might have been done to cut down on time, but it severely limits the movie’s ability to spawn sequels (the later books require these characters). Charles Wallace’s psychic abilities are also absent, leaving him as a very secondary character, instead of in the prominent position he occupied in the book. There are removals that do make sense, however. Many scenes from the book have been cut that don’t leave the story largely wanting. Some include the “Aunt Beast” plot arc, as well as some of the characters’ time on Camazotz.
A Wrinkle in Time is an enjoyable movie, and a great movie for children to see over its likely month-long theatrical run. Unfortunately, it did not do proper justice to its source material and comes off hollow and a little moralizing.
Featured Image by Walt Disney Studios