After nearly 60 years of uninterrupted publication, the “unfilmable” beloved novel “A Wrinkle in Time” finally has a feature film. But is it possible for a Disney movie to capture the magic, science, and fantasy and do justice to the themes explored within the imaginative narrative? Considering concerned parents on both sides have tried to have it banned from schools for being both too religious and too mystic it’s certainly no easy task.
In the most basic sense, the story is about a young girl, Meg (Storm Reid) and her 5-year-old prodigy brother, Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe) searching for their father(Chris Pine) who disappeared four years prior. Both Meg and Charles Wallace’s parents were gifted physicists, and it was their combined research led to the father discovering a way to traverse dimensions using only the power of his mind. For reasons that are never fully revealed, three inter-dimensional beings, Mrs. Whatsit (Mrs. Whatsit), Mrs. Who (Mrs. Who), and Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey), find the children and point them in the right direction of their father. Unfortunately, his trail leads to the center of all evil in the universe, a “happy sadist” known simply as the “IT”. (Not the same being as King’s clown, but then again, perhaps it is??)
The themes weaved through the book are the story’s true heart, as they celebrate intelligence, uniqueness, and the ability love has to conquer evil. It’s been said that the book’s author, Madeleine L’Engle, always disapproved of the phrase “Power of Love”, since power is an oppressive force, something that is used to control and coerce, but love can only be experienced through faith and vulnerability. These are difficult concepts to translate from written text to visual imagery, not to mention the fantastical description of some of the character’s true forms and the planets they visit. Unfortunately, this is one area the film falls short.
Whenever a film is based on an existing book, it’s rare that what’s seen onscreen will match the visuals your mind crafted during reading. I didn’t envision a giant, floating Oprah Winfrey adorned with jeweled eyebrows when I first read the book in elementary school, and I certainly didn’t envision a garishly cartoonish, flying leaf, natural form of Mrs. Whatsit. But, I also never visualized Meg’s parents to be an interracial couple or that her brother was adopted. It’s choices like these which make the film feel as if it was crafted by two very different people.
Ava DuVernay, the talented woman behind such films as “Selma” and “13th” is credited as director for “A Wrinkle in Time.” There are a number of small, brilliant, moments that are clearly hers. The beautiful opening sequence between the father and a younger Meg, shots playing with the warm color pallet of their loving home, and the cold colors of the attached lab, and the choice to include a “non-traditional” family structure. Although virtually nothing is said about Meg’s race, or her little brother being adopted, these elements play heavily into the book’s early themes about the fear of not fitting in or not being fully loved and accepted. Young viewers who are in similar situations themselves may immediately identify with these characters and cling to the reassurances they experience. Sadly, many other parts of the film are painted with such broad, generic strokes, that it dilutes the entire point of the book. Large chunks feel like they were directed by committee. Saccharin color schemes, an unending generic musical score, and a few measures of bad pop music thrown in for good measure wreck what could be, and should be, a magical experience. The effect is akin to giving the Disney Channel editors final cut on an Oscar Nominated film.
“A Wrinkle in Time” could have been better. It SHOULD have been better. Adults, especially those unfamiliar with the book, are unlikely to find much to appreciate. But I still intend to take our kids, particularly our daughter, to see it. Perhaps its optimistic weirdness will put a smile on her face, help her stand up against the “rhythm of conformity”, and maybe, just maybe, one day she’ll seek out the novel and follow-up books for a real treat.