It’s tricky business, taking a beloved classic children’s book — which finds its real power inside the reader’s mind — and translating that wonder to a box-office-friendly Disney film. Ava DuVernay (Selma) makes a go of it with A Wrinkle in Time, an adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s 1962 novel. She makes a big-hearted and sincere effort, but the results are more pedestrian than magical and transforming.
We first meet the wonderfully nerdy, loving Murry family — scientist dad (Chris Pine), who is working on traveling the universe with his mind, with his scientist wife (Gugu Mbatha-Raw); tween daughter, Meg (Storm Reid); and her super-brainy kid brother, Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe). Then dad disappears, and the family suffers; Meg, especially, grows withdrawn and angry.
But then the kids, plus a schoolmate (Levi Miller), come under the tutelage of three mysterious women, from somewhere out in the universe — there’s chatty Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), the quotation-spouting Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling) and the larger-than-life counselor, Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey). The three assure Meg that her dad is still alive, but in danger in the beyond, and that she can help save him. So off they all go on their quest into the assorted spaces and times of the universe.
At its heart, Wrinkle offers a good vs. evil, light vs. dark set-up, and the usual messages about how when you believe in yourself, you can accomplish anything. (When such affirmations come from Winfrey’s character, the film is like a very special inter-dimensional Oprah show.)
It’s a bright film, with some lovely digitally enhanced scenery, showy set pieces and some fabulous costumes. (Winfrey should just walk around Chicago dressed like Mrs. Which: “Yes, I’m wearing a blonde hooker wig, with a line of jewels across my forehead, and a gilded cage for a dress. I’m Oprah.”) It has engaging actors, an empowering message and deserves extra points for a diverse cast. There is a flying cabbage (I think), which I loved, and a pop-in from the sad/sweet Zach Galifianakis, as the Happy Medium.
But it never quite hangs together right, stumbling through scenes that mash-up after-school special with the fantastical. Some scenes are too long, particularly in the life-on-earth set-up, while others, out in the more confusing wrinkly universe, could have used better transitions. I have never read the book, and book-readers will likely weather such moments without trouble. I’ll also leave it to the book-readers to sort out whether the film meets their expectations, but I suspect that most kids will nonetheless enjoy the outing.