Are the expectations on A Wrinkle in Time possibly too high? Perhaps. It’s a high-profile adaptation of a classic children’s book. Acclaimed director Ava DuVernay is following up Selma and 13th with a visually bright and bold, big-budget film that’s notable for its diverse casting choices. It’s arriving less than a month after Black Panther, a behemoth of a film that has more than proved how much representation matters with what studios put out. But like another recent Disney adaptation of a classic children’s book, The BFG, A Wrinkle in Time fails to create much more than a visually dazzling, narratively lacking feature.
Meg Murry (Storm Reid) has spent the past four years of her life in a depression of sorts, following the disappearance of her father (Chris Pine). One night, her younger brother, Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe), begins to introduce Meg to a trio of mysterious celestial beings known as Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling), and Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey). The trio explain to Meg and Charles Wallace that their father has travelled to another dimension, where he’s been imprisoned by a being known as the IT (not that one). Along with Meg’s classmate Calvin (Levi Miller), the group tessers (the mode of transportation between dimensions in this universe) to different planets while trying to find Mr. Murry and bring him back home.
I’m honestly torn on how to grade A Wrinkle in Time, because for the problems it has, it does have some truly positive qualities that shouldn’t be downplayed. Chief among those, in my mind, is how the diversity in representation comes into play here. That’s not just in terms of lip service to having a female-heavy, ethnically diverse cast or a female crew, but in how having women involved on both sides of the production creates a fantasy film that eschews some of the tropes associated with fantasy films of this sort. The visuals in this film are, while heavily incorporating CGI, lush and vibrant in a way we rarely see with fantasy films. The colors incorporated into the film are just different, and they help set a tone for what’s going on here.
The film also relies heavily on creating an emotional connection, and while I think it’s something adults can understand, the film is clearly targeting a younger audience in this regard. Near the film’s conclusion, Meg comes to terms with a truth about herself, and it’s a brutally honest revelation that is both devastating and all too real. Without spoiling it, I can’t deny that this revelation rings true, and I have to wonder how many young people, especially young girls, in the audience will connect with this moment.
All that being said, A Wrinkle in Time has some definite issues. The most concerning, for me at least, is the weakness of the narrative. The story unfolds in a sprawling, complex universe, but it was hard to invest in any of it. Even though they’re visually distinctive, they all kind of melt together when recalling the film. There’s not enough explanation given for what exactly happened with Meg’s father, or why he wasn’t able to return home. The inclusion of Calvin is also not really explained, though it does serve as a reversal of the all-too-common trope of having a token girl along for the trip. I don’t know if this is all intentional or not, because if we’re viewing this as a film focused on Meg’s emotional journey, the rest of it doesn’t matter as much. But is that enough of a reason to excuse these weaknesses? I have a hard time saying yes.
Look, I applaud the effort taken to try and adapt this story for the big screen. It’s notoriously been known as an unfilmable book, and while that may be true, this film shows that an effort’s at least been made. I also have to give some credit to Disney for trying to branch out in their live-action department from yet another recreation of one of their own animated features. But like other efforts by Disney in this area, A Wrinkle in Time ultimately doesn’t work the way I’d hope it would. I don’t know if I can diagnose exactly what the issue is here, but given the success of pretty much every other film department for the overall Disney company at this point, it’s frustrating to see this particular part of the studio fall behind.