Courtesy of Disney
Using our imaginations is something that Disney has encouraged for generations to come, even when their lackluster pictures ("Tomorrowland") come up short - they still prove to be somewhat imaginative. In "Selma," which was Director Ava DuVernay's last picture, we really felt like we got inside the mind of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The movie was like an invitation more than anything, it set boundaries and took a dark past in our nation's history and turned it into a story of resilience. I think DuVernay faced an even tougher task with "A Wrinkle In Time" which is based on Madeleine L'Engle's book dating back to the 1960s. Whereas "Selma" (which took place after the "Time" novel was released) took it's message and somehow made it possible for an audience, "A Wrinkle In Time" came at a time when the ideas presented in those pages seemed fresh. They didn't have "The Hunger Games" and "Harry Potter" or cliché movies or books about "light vs dark" to borrow from. But in today's context "A Wrinkle In Time," despite all the best efforts, doesn't translate well on screen.
This is a film with many bright ideas and visually eye popping scenery, that seemed to always go nowhere. It's messy, and severely underwhelming. The target demographic likely won't find any issues with the overall vibe, but those on the fence might falter at all the Disney Channel mumbo-jumbo.
We start with Meg (played by upcomer Storm Reid) - she fits the bill of almost every heroine you'll read or see about these days. Her dad, Dr. Murry (Chris Pine), has been missing for the better half of four years, which many chalk up to his dabbling with space and time. In some flashback scenes he presents topics of otherworldly dimensional travels and he becomes a punchline. Back on Earth, Meg struggles with the daily routine of bullies, an adopted brother named Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe - watch out for this kid) who consistently embarrasses her, and a boy she has a crush on named Calvin (Levi Miller - more on him later). If anything this movie just reinforces the fact of how cruel kids can be these days, and that teachers say all the wrong things at the wrong time ("your father is not coming back") - geesh.
You could say things start to feel odd when a ditty, whimsical, and overdressed being named Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon) shows up in Meg's living room detailing that her father is very much lost in space. What does this mean for her? She has to find him of course. With the help of Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling), who only speaks in quotes ranging from Winston Churchill to William Shakespeare and the ever expandable Oprah Winfrey playing Mrs. Which, who at times is a larger than life projection (we're talking cell phone tower height) and then she comes back to reality. But whatever it's Oprah.
Once the action kicks into gear, "Time" sluggishly starts to drag on. We visit many locales and gooey CGI landscapes that never seem to blend well in the picture, which features a gorgeous palette of vibrant colors. As if the filmmakers put all their attention in talking flowers, but not in the actual plot mechanics. Even the doofus that is Calvin steps up for the ride, and I don't think you'll find a more useless character in cinema all year. All he does is watch the action, and says things like "am I losing my senses?" Seriously, there will be moments when things feel like they're going somewhere, and then Calvin makes a quip and it immediately doesn't make any sense. The whole movie you think this kid will amount to something and he never does.
Of course, with all the Mrs. W stuff going on and the explaining of a dark entity that's slowly taking over the Earth, Meg becomes a pawn in her own story. She never becomes the leader you want her to be, and all DuVerney wants to do is show radical close-ups of her face. Some moments, however, do feel inspired. A sequence that has a fly by cameo of Michael Pena on a beach is engrossing, and another includes a trifecta of children, all in unison, bouncing rubber balls in a "Pleasantville" like atmosphere. Zach Galifianakis adds some spunk as a character named Happy Medium and with it brings some much needed energy in the middle ground of this flick.
Their are sweet moments that always seem to find their place inside a Disney drama, which DuVernay handles exceptionally well. If we learned anything from "Selma" or "13th" we know she can stage drama. Except the overall creative choices eventually catch up to her in the end. Which, granted, has much in the vein of being comfortable in your body, and accepting yourself. But the campiness of the film and it's mild throwback to "The Neverending Story" seem underdeveloped - I wanted more.
For as creative DuVernay is on a bigger scope, it's so frustrating that at the same time she makes bold choices, she also takes creative tundras (were informed there are two planets our heroes will travel too, yet we never learn or see any of them.) Even Witherspoon turning into a lettuce wrap flying beast seemed clunky. But the biggest irony of "A Wrinkle In Time" is how strained for content it can be. Along the way, it seems to forget the message it's trying to sell. In the process, it turns a kid friendly young adult adaptation from a watchable adventure, to a problematic one.