When I was a child, my parents read my sisters and I Madeleine L’Engle’s sci-fi novels as bedtime stories. The books remain an integral part of my childhood because they feature heroes who accomplish great things despite their flaws. Ava DuVernay’s adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time will stick with children who see it for years to come, but don’t expect a cinematic masterpiece crafted for adults. The best way to watch the film is through the eyes of a child.
The film follows Meg Murry, an insecure 12 year-old played by Storm Reid, as she travels through the universe in search of her father, a gifted scientist who has been missing for four years (Chris Pine). With the help of her near-genius little brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe), her classmate Calvin (Levi Miller), and three magical creatures called “The Mrs,” Meg sets out to reunite her family. The group seeks help from talking flowers and a literal happy medium, eventually landing on the dark planet of Camazotz. The movie departs from L’Engle’s original storyline in a few notable places, but the overall message that makes the novel so wonderful remains intact. Meg represents the plight of so many preteens: she lacks confidence and hasn’t quite settled into her own skin. When faced with extraordinary challenges, Meg must look inside herself to find the strength she needs to overcome darkness.
This theme of defeating adversity isn’t an original one, and the screenplay struggles to offer any fresh takes. The dialogue of the film can’t compare to the beauty of L’Engle’s book and the script borders on cheesy at times, but DuVernay’s incredible cast delivers it well. Oprah Winfrey’s Mrs. Which is the perfect wise role model Meg needs, and Reese Witherspoon is delightful as the immature but well-meaning Mrs. Whatsit. Mindy Kaling’s Mrs. Who, however, lacks the depth and fun that Kaling is capable of; her character contributes almost nothing to the plot of the film, and feels like a disposable character. Pine works well as the missing Dr. Murry, making the most of a dry part. Zach Galifianakis is a nice surprise as the Happy Medium, remaining hilarious as usual but also offering sincere advice to the travellers. The adults rarely deliver any memorable lines, but their wisdom and kindness make them characters that any child watching the movie would admire.
The star-studded adult cast, however, takes a backseat to the children leading the film. Reid takes charge as Meg, and though A Wrinkle in Time is her first leading role, it won’t be her last. Reid portrays Meg’s complications flawlessly, acknowledging that she is jaded and self-conscious while still allowing her to be the heroine that fans of the book know and love. Miller is a decent Calvin, though his character seems to exist more to point out Meg’s insecurities than to actually contribute much to the story’s development. McCabe, the nine year-old selected out of thousands of child actors to play Charles Wallace, will steal your heart, offering a surprising amount of depth for such a young performer. The kids make the movie magical, and DuVernay’s decision to allow them to take the lead makes the film more enchanting.
Though some of the worldmaking is predictable, A Wrinkle in Time is visually stunning. The first two planets the ensemble visits on their journey are detailed and colorful, but they look more like settings borrowed from a Star Wars film than the bizarre, captivating worlds L’Engle created in the book. The dark planet of Camazotz is where the visual effects are the simplest, and therefore most effective. Camazotz manages to be menacing without always resorting to the expected dark-and-stormy aesthetic, providing the perfect backdrop for the epic ending to the film.
DuVernay’s directorial talent is evident, and she does the novel justice as she walks the tightrope between modernizing a classic and retaining its original magic. There is room for improvement if Disney chooses to pick up a sequel, but the film sets up a decent foundation to continue on to A Wind in the Door, the next book in the series. A Wrinkle in Time’s biggest misjudgment is the expectation that it will appeal to both the adults who read the book years ago and the children who are experiencing the magic for the first time. It lacks the depth it needs to be a fulfilling film for a mature audience, but its beautiful message and entertaining cast make it a must-see for kids.
Just like the book that made such a good bedtime story for me as a child, A Wrinkle in Time will be both exciting and empowering for children. In a world where things seem to be falling apart, the story’s optimism stands out. The film fails to cross over into an adult audience, but maybe it doesn’t have to. A Wrinkle in Time is a gift to the youth of the world, and its message, though simplistic, will resonate with any child who sees it.