Meg Murry (Storm Reid) is a glum tween with every reason to be distant from her classmates: Her beloved physicist dad (Chris Pine) disappeared four years ago. Dad and mom (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), brilliant scientists, seemed to have discovered a way to travel across the universe in an instant. They say that time can fold itself, or in Star Trek terms, it is the classic rift in the time/space continuum. Dad thinks he discovered something in his lab one night, and disappears.
Meg is a loner who is bullied at school. Her precocious kid brother Charles Wallace is a lot more open and trusting, so when three strange celestial characters Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey), Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), and Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling) show up and ask the kids to jump (or “tesser”) through a wrinkle in time (along with their buddy Calvin, played by Levi Miller), scientific Meg unsurprisingly has her doubts. But if doing so, she can find and rescue her father on the other side of the universe, she is willing to try.
A Wrinkle in Time is full-on fantasy, not sci-fi, mind you. The concepts are cerebral, and the settings are fantastic. On these distant planets, you don’t have to worry about whether the air is breathable. Instead, you can look around in wonder at talking flowers and evil black tendrilly entities, and gawp at Reese Witherspoon turning into a flying piece of kale. The film is aimed squarely at precocious kids trying to find their way in the world, and it may not have the depth or appeal to cross generational lines (think of Pixar’s best films). However, it does introduce some concepts that will hit viewers of all ages, like dealing with societal pressure to conform as well as finding pride in your inner strength… You know, the kinds of things that still cause the child in all of us to twinge a bit.
The film at times reminded me of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, both in tone and life lessons: a good kid learns to find themselves via a series of challenges and eye-popping colorful visuals. (Seeing these visuals in IMAX made me feel a little barfy, I have to admit.) The three “Mrs.” were a little strange for my taste, partly because Oprah and Witherspoon were too familiar to me to disappear into their roles as celestial guides. But there was a lot I liked about the film, including some visually great scenes, like where Meg and Calvin lose Charles Wallace on a crowded beach. Zach Galifinakis, of all people, shows up with a funny yet warm appearance as a medium. And the boy who plays Charles Wallace, Deric McCabe, is a hoot, especially when the good kid goes bad.
I’m not sure this film version of A Wrinkle in Time matches anything in my own head from when I read Madeline L’Engle’s book many many years ago. But it shows how fantasy, in particular, is completely conjured in imagination. I appreciate director Ava DuVernay’s unique and modern vision of the tale.