Director Ava DuVernay has said that her film, A Wrinkle in Time, is intended to be a love letter to young people, and it’s easy to understand why. Ever since the Madeleine L’Engle science fantasy novel for children was published in 1962, the book has not only won a handful of prestigious literary awards, it’s become a favorite of both the home and the classroom. Teachers have remarked of noticing how the faces of children light up, their minds lost in a world of sparkling imagination as they turn the pages of L’Engle’s novel, relishing the adventures of young Meg Murray and the search for her father throughout the universe after his mysterious disappearance.
There was a TV movie version back on 2003, but it’s only now, with the advancement of computer technology, can the true intention of L’Engle’s novel said to be fully realized. The other worldly images seen throughout are remarkable. What you’ll witness is at times so startlingly beautiful, it’s as if the boundaries of a child’s imagination were lifted, freed of any constraints, and sent on an endless journey, where every mile covered and every corner turned brings a new, visual moment of astonishment. But it comes with a problem. Unless you already know the story, where words like tesseract, and characters known as Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which are already familiar, there’s a strong likelihood that little is going to make sense.
After close to sixty years since the book’s initial appearance, the development of CGI may have allowed the tale to be seen in the way it was intended, but it doesn’t help in the telling. You’ll get the overall idea, and you’ll be moved by the eventual reconciliation – watching parents and children thought to be lost can’t help but touch at the heartstrings when reunited – but you’ll get neither the why nor the how. You’ll be as lost as the father.
Unlike the book, where Meg and the family are Caucasian, one of the most positive and interesting decisions of the big screen version is the multiracial approach. Young Meg and her mother are African-American, while her younger brother and the absent father are white. The film is colorblind. For the record, there are no 10-year-old twin brothers in the movie, though as far as can be told, their absence changes little in the narrative.
The setup to the film is close to the book. Teenager Meg (an excellent Storm Reid) is suffering at school. Since the absence of her father (Chris Pine) she can’t seem to get along with anyone, neither her peers nor her teachers, and life at home with her scientist mother (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) isn’t much happier. On the fourth anniversary of her dad’s disappearance, Meg arrives at school only to be taunted by the mean girls. A note on her locker reads: Happy Anniversary. If only you’d disappear, too.
But things are about to change. Meg and her genius younger brother, Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe) are greeted by three supernatural beings, Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey) and Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling). Along with school friend, Calvin (Levi Miller), the children are whisked away into the far reaching areas of the universe on a rescue mission to find Meg’s father and to bring him home.
To tell any more is not only to spoil the surprises, but virtually impossible. Once the children land on their feet in a new fantastical world decorated in a kaleidoscopic array of color, it’s difficult to say exactly what’s going on. If your child has read the book, they’ll know, and they can tell you why there’s a malevolent spidery thing floating around known as the evil IT, or why Mrs. Whatsit can turn into a beautiful winged creature then back again, or even what traveling by tesseract means (it has something to do with folding the fabric of space and time, but I was never quite sure). Clearly some prior knowledge helps, but ultimately the film should stand alone with an ability to tell its story without the need of having read the novel, and it’s here where it fails.
Events are all over the place, void of any real explanation or logic, making the journey of Meg, Calvin, and Charles Wallace all the more frustrating. Of course, in the world of a child’s imagination, logic has nothing to do with anything, but with a vision as extraordinary as this, it would have been nice had something, anything, fell into place.
I was reminded of the parents in The Polar Express who, once they became grownups, could no longer hear Santa’s bell ring. Perhaps it requires a child’s unquestioning mind to simply go with the flow to fully appreciate what occurs in A Wrinkle in Time and how it happens. Or perhaps – and I suspect this is closer to the truth – Madeleine L’Engle’s novel, as delightful and as exciting as it may be when read, is unfilmable.
MPAA Rating: PG Length: 109 Minutes Overall Rating: 4 (out of 10)