‘A Wrinkle in Time’ review: Disney kids movie a beautiful fantasy, but that’s it

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WATCH: 'A Wrinkle in Time' trailer – Jan 10, 2018

On its surface, Ava DuVernay’s A Wrinkle in Time, adapted from the 1962 Christian children’s book, is a sight to behold.

It’s beautiful, a winding journey on a breeze; it is bright, colourful and whimsical, with hair, makeup and costuming to match. It definitely has a Wizard of Oz vibe, featuring strangers from another land visiting a new world of wonder where the limitations of physics and gravity don’t matter. Real-world problems melt away but are replaced with existential questions about our souls, our very being.

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The problem with Wrinkle lies in its story and its storytelling. The three cornerstones of religion — facing difficulty, adopting faith and then receiving redemption — are all present in the predictable storyline, and unfortunately, in the cinema of today, it’s too dull to capture (and hold) attention. The sweeping beauty of the film is almost nullified by the mundanity of the story.

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Tell me more about the story.

The story follows 13-year-old Meg Murry (Storm Reid) as she travels through space and time to find her missing father (Chris Pine), who inexplicably disappeared from his lab four years prior. Accompanied by her genius brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe) and her friend/crush Calvin O’Keefe (Levi Miller), and with the guidance of Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey), Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling) and Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), the group embarks on a journey through the universe using a “tesseract” — a fifth-dimensional tool that “folds” time.

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Deric McCabe makes major motion picture debut in ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ – Mar 7, 2018

It sounds thrilling on paper, but the finished product doesn’t reflect the excitement it should. When the group first arrives on the Utopian alien planet of Uriel, we get a taste of what the movie could’ve been as the kids take a ride on a leaf dragon (the best description I have for it) under the watchful eyes of the Mrses. But after that, it’s a lot of talking in circles and wandering into rooms that resemble nightclubs; think up-lit floors, multicoloured walls and endless hallways, an Ikea fever dream.

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OK, so for kids, this movie is just fine?

First and foremost a movie for children, Wrinkle has enough to occupy them, and the majority of kids shouldn’t be bored by the story. Fair warning: they may get antsy towards the end, when most of the movie’s conflicts are resolved through earnest face-to-face speeches. In the film’s back half, the action and whimsy noticeably declines in favour of emotional exchanges.

It’s a far tougher slog for adults, who’ve seen this before, heard this before and know what’s coming.

How is the cast?

For the most part, excellent. The casting of Reid in the lead and McCabe as her brother is spot-on, and both are natural scene-stealers. In terms of inclusion and representation, Wrinkle achieves what it set out to do. It warms the heart to imagine any mixed-race kids or children of colour identifying with Reid, especially since she’s smart, into science and unafraid of bullies. Miller is there as eye candy for young girls, a perfect blue-eyed teen to stare at.

Pine as the missing father is appealing, which isn’t surprising for him. Weirdly, a zany Zach Galifianakis bit role doesn’t connect and comes off as a bizarre, misplaced cameo. It feels like he could’ve served a bigger purpose in the story, but instead he’s shoehorned in, sitting alone in his cave.

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I have to know more about Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, and Mindy Kaling’s roles.

These three queens are the making of a dream casting, right? They’re definitely a sight to behold in the excessive makeup and out-there costumes, but as with the film itself, it’s all surface. Winfrey’s Mrs. Which is more like a god, and her utterances sound like word-for-word Hallmark card verse. At first, she even appears much larger than the other two (it’s on purpose), so it’s hard not to see her as the boss.

With far more lines than her counterparts, Witherspoon’s Mrs. Whatsit eventually grates on the nerves, and her “jokes” plummet to earth. Kaling’s Mrs. Who spends most of the time quoting famous people in history, which, again, gets annoying fast. (Even more confounding is how, despite being able to travel across the universe on a whim, she has no other species but humankind to quote? It’s hard not to chuckle when she quotes Gandhi or Winston Churchill, but never a being from another galaxy or planet.)

So what’s the bottom line?

Underneath its beautiful facade, A Wrinkle in Time is distractedly messy. DuVernay is such a talent, it’s likely that somewhere in the production process things got muddied (watch her Oscar-nominated Netflix documentary, 13th, for example, to see how Wrinkle misrepresents her abilities). Or maybe the outdated subject matter was more difficult to translate to screen than anyone anticipated. In any event, this isn’t a movie for adults, it’s for kids, and the target audience most likely has enough to keep them engaged — and maybe enough to inspire.

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‘A Wrinkle in Time’ is now playing in theatres across Canada.

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