Much of the reason Madeleine L'Engle's 1962 book A Wrinkle in Time is still being read is because it wrestles with ideas that are still relevant. It taps into the insecurities all children and most adults face. It may also be the only novel that begins with "It was a dark and stormy night" without coming off as a parody.
It's tricky to make a thinky movie for young people, but it can be done. Screenwriter Jeff Stockwell skillfully adapted Bridge to Terabithia, but both he nor Jennifer Lee, whose credits include Wreck-It Ralph, Frozen and Zootopia, have achieved that previous movie's ability to mix eye candy, emotional depth and cerebral satisfaction.
A Wrinkle in Time
74 Cast: Storm Reid, Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Levi Miller, Deric McCabe, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Chris Pine, Zach Galifianakis, Michael Pena, Andre Holland, David Oyelowo
Director: Ava DuVernay
Rating: PG, for thematic elements and some peril
Running time: 1 hour, 49 minutes
A Wrinkle in Time deserves some credit for treating youngsters with respect. Scientist Mr. Murry (Chris Pine) uses a few equations and discusses a few concepts you won't hear in Nickelodeon cartoons. Nevertheless, it's difficult to give a story tension when its core story involves slipping through time and space instantaneously. When you can travel with the ease of taking a breath, there's neither a sense of wonder nor difficulty, even when the characters face some sort of danger.
Murry's daughter Meg (Storm Reid) might be as brilliant as her dad, but you'd never know from her grades. Murry disappeared after discussing how it might be possible to move across galaxies and even through time without having to use spaceships. Now that he is gone, his outlandish theories might be less ridiculous.
For Meg, however, it's rough. A chorus of mean girls regularly taunts her about her appearance and her father's disappearance. She's also frustrated about having to stand up for her equally odd little brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe). The lad seems just a little too bright for his small frame.
Despite her self-pity, Meg attracts the notice of her popular classmate Calvin (Levi Miller) and receives some help from a trio of "celestial guides" who need three pupils to help them find Murry and defeat a malevolent force called "The It." (No, it isn't a homicidal clown that lives in the sewers. L'Engle's story predates Stephen King's by a couple of decades.)
The guides include the insanely perky Mrs. Whatsit (who else but Reese Witherspoon?) and Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling), who speaks entirely in quotations from others. At least she ends them with the name and nationality of the source. It's easy to guess that Mrs. Which is their leader. She's about twice the height of the other two, and she's played by Oprah Winfrey, so she's likely to dominate the room even without special effects.
Speaking of CGIs, the visuals in the movie range from impressive to something shy of a home gaming system. Meg's journeys across the universe take her to lots of colorful worlds that look about as exotic as a My Little Pony backdrop.
Director Ava DuVernay earned a lot of deserved praise for making the civil rights struggle seem urgent and real in Selma. With characters who had real-life failings and activities that had firm deadlines, there was no sense that good would triumph through patience. Here she seems to have been instructed that anything unclear in the script or novel can be fixed with a few more visual effects.
The problems with the effects might have been easier to tolerate if the characters were drawn a little more precisely. The celestial guides are more like cheerleaders than participants, and The It isn't all that scary. If Justice League taught us anything, it's that CGI villains aren't intimidating. It's obvious the entity or the danger it poses isn't real, so there's no need to take deeper breaths.
The cast does what it can considering it has taken a backseat to animated flowers and a dragon who looks less real than the one in 1984's The NeverEnding Story. McCabe looks like he's trying too hard to be precocious and cute, but he's great when his Charles Wallace gets in touch with his inner and outer demons. He's born to play possessed tots.
Einstein gets mentioned in A Wrinkle in Time, but he and the audience would be better served if the filmmakers had figured out how to present his thoughts instead of dropping his name.
MovieStyle on 03/09/2018
Print Headline: Little wonder