There are classic young adult stories that are deep, complicated and expand your mind. They’re perfect for the adolescent set and a good read for adults too. Then there are books in this category that become popular because they bring up an important theme, but in a superficial and shallow manner. They’re good books too, of course, but most adults tend to find them tedious and obvious both. Madeleine L’Engle’s classic A Wrinkle in Time is in this latter category, the barest of allegories about the adolescence battle of good and evil. Written in 1962, it follows teen outcast Meg Murry, her nerdy genius little brother Charles Wallace and her friend Calvin O’Keefe on a journey through space and time to rescue her scientist father from the evil “It”.
A film adaptation was released in 2003 as a made for TV movie and it was definitely aimed at the younger set. But is there a deeper, more thoughtful and profound story hidden in the book? Director Ava DuVernay decided to find out with a new, big budget movie and star-studded cast. In what could perhaps be an ironic reflection of the story’s concept of an all pervasive evil that influences everyone, Director DuVernay just couldn’t escape the influence of the squeaky-clean “Disney”. As a result, A Wrinkle in Time is visually quite stunning and enriched with impressive performances, but so carefully crafted to be inoffensive that it often feels more like a Disney Channel after school movie than a theatrical release. Think “High School Musical In Space”. Maybe.
Which isn’t to take away from the fact that it’s an interesting, albeit highly predictable, story told well. The story revolves around Meg (Storm Reid), who’s been in a funk since her genius scientist father Mr. Murry (Chris Pine) mysteriously vanished four years earlier. Other kids tease her, teachers bad mouth the father for having skipped out on the family, but she, her younger brother Charles Wallace (a terrific Deric McCabe) and mom Mrs. Murry (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) try to keep the faith. After all, he was working on ways to travel immeasurable distances in the universe by, well, just wanting to get to the other place.
Three ethereal women show up on the scene to take Meg, her awkward new pal Calvin (Levi Miller), and Charles Wallace to the other side of the galaxy to rescue Dad: Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey), the wise older woman of the group, Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), a bit of a ditz but with the funniest lines, and Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling), who keeps quoting famous writers because she’s evolved beyond speech. There are a couple of amusing cameos too, including Zach Galifianakis as Happy Medium and Michael Peña as the evil Red, but the story is still basically banal: Kids encounter various adolescent emotional challenges, must learn to overcome them by finding their “inner warrior” and letting love influence their choices.
There are nonetheless a few moments in the film where things get rather intense, and left over visual effects from films like Malificent show up to really test Meg’s resolve and strength. She overcomes all, even when her little brother is possessed by It and starts being pretty darn evil. Think about that, though; shades of The Exorcist in a Disney kids movie. Better yet, young Deric McCabe delivers a quite impressive performance as Charles Wallace both when he’s just being nerdy boy and evil possessed boy. Well done, sir!
There are, however, no real surprises in the film and plenty of dialog where adults and older teens both will roll their eyes and feel their cynicism emerging. Though visually quite impressive, it’s also barely a PG story with no bad language, no violence, no nudity, no sexual innuendo or intimacy, and even the budding young romance of Meg and Calvin never gets beyond the tween frisson of holding hands.
Which is fine. A Wrinkle in Time is a rare sci-fi adventure that will prove reasonably entertaining for the whole family, with enough visually interesting elements once the story properly starts (warning: the first 15-20 minutes are pretty dull, fellow adult movie-watchers) for big folk, and enough obnoxious teen behavior to engage your own teen. It’s just that no-one in the production, not even Winfrey, Kaling and Witherspoon, take any chances with trying to make a deeper and more profound film.