Thanks Disney for ruining my childhood.
By Matt Cummings
If there’s one thing we can count on from Disney and its now out-stretched reach of many Hollywood properties, it’s this: no beloved title is safe from being re-interpreted or even hackneyed to fit their fetish for sentimentality. Marvel’s CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR and STAR WARS THE LAST JEDI are two recent examples, one that works brilliantly, the other not so much. Their newest effort – A WRINKLE IN TIME – leans more towards JEDI in terms of effect, a disjointed mess that appeals to the eye with stunning effects but fails to keep its wandering plot from getting lost in space.
The 13-year old Meg (Storm Reid) is suffering mightily in the four years following the disappearance of her brilliant scientist father Alex (Chris Pine). Since then, Meg is haunted by memories of him, while her adopted brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe) attempts to defend Meg both on the playground and at home. A child prodigy, Charles Wallace has also been in secret communication with a collection of immortal beings – Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling), and their leader Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey) – who offer the family a chance to find their father. After initially balking at the idea, the angry Meg takes Charles Wallace and a fellow student Calvin (Levi Miller) on a journey across the universe by “tesseracting” to far-away planets in an instant. The trip reveals the presence of an evil called The It, who is slowly turning the universe dark and has captured Alex along the way. To save her father, Meg and her human friends will battle an enemy whose influence strikes close to home, while Meg struggles to learn the truth about why her father seemingly abandoned her.
I really wanted to like WRINKLE. As a child, the book entranced me, although I have to admit that its epic destinations took a few readings to fathom. From the trailers, I was hoping for another Science Fiction masterpiece ala BLADE RUNNER 2049, with WRINKLE serving as the next big kid’s movie that would encourage a new breed of young scientists and explorers. Unfortunately, Director Ava DuVernay’s film is big on scale but woefully short on story. We’re left only to guess how the Mrs. and Charles Wallace met, which could have been a spectacular few moments of story mayhem that never materializes. There’s no explanation as to why The It wants to capture Alex: he doesn’t seem to offer anything that The It doesn’t already have, and so Pine’s always-great effort is wasted on literally 5 scenes. But perhaps the worst part of WRINKLE is its dependence on its spectacular visuals to tell its story. Cinematographer Tobias Schliessler crafts a masterful scene, featuring planets with talking flowers, planets in close orbit, and the dark recesses of Camazotz where The It resides; but it’s all for not because the story isn’t supported. We get a ton of music-video stylized moments, with Meg looking depressed or angry or whatever, before Schliessler and DuVernay wisk us away to some other planet, whose only purpose is to offer another random plot device. The same goes for two pseudo-cameos (at least ones which aren’t really part of the marketing campaign): their characters are re-imagined from Novelist Madeleine L’Engle’s book, one given a new sex and the other whose presence is not thought-out at all.
Our troupe does a fairly good job with the material, with the child actors actually coming out better than some of the adults. The real winner here is McCabe, who balances Charles Wallace’s great intellect with the joy and naivety of a young boy. He never overacts, and those moments when he turns on Meg are good enough to make us not hate child actors. Reid is also good, while Pine and Gugu Mbatha-Raw enjoy good chemistry as Meg’s parents. Witherspoon is the best of the Mrs., her brutal honesty on display as she openly questions whether Meg should be brought on to the mission. She and the other Mrs. look incredible, thanks to some of the most unique costume design we’ve seen in awhile. If only the story by Writers Jennifer Lee and Jeff Stockwell had been given the same attention.
My reaction to WRINKLE IN TIME raises a question I’ve posited with many of Disney’s franchises: Why must they insist on re-imagining rather than telling the story that made it so popular in the first place? Fans of the book will probably ask the same question, while teens will wonder why they bothered. WRINKLE’s audience lies somewhere in between, but its unique visuals will do nothing to inspire our children into science as the book originally did back in 1962. This isn’t the next great kids film by a longshot.
THE BOTTOM LINE
It’s a depressing thing to admit, but A WRINKLE IN TIME just doesn’t work, not because of its stellar CGI landscapes, but because of its poor plot and lack of believable danger. It seems to settle too often on a 12-foot Oprah Winfrey with outstretched arms, rather than moving Meg and the others down a more grounded road towards rewarding character development. That lack of danger poisons a movie that needed another 15 minutes to really tell its story, settling instead for too many music-video moments. This isn’t the franchise starter that Disney hoped for, but it will entertain with spectacular graphics before descending into too many dark plot holes which it doesn’t seem too worried about resolving.
A WRINKLE IN TIME is rated PG for thematic elements and some peril and has runtime of 109 minutes.