Disney's latest lives up to little of its ambition, but has a heart big enough to eclipse its alarming CGI.
It’s easy to appreciate A Wrinkle in Time, the Disney fantasy adaptation with Oprah Winfrey’s stamp of approval CGI-ed over its 2 hour run-time. Even for a Disney film, it propels titbits of wisdom and pubescent shaped chunks of encouragement from its core so fast and in such quick succession, it runs the risk of rivalling dialogue from an Aaron Sorkin film. One minute we’re encouraged to accept and grow from our faults and flaws, the next we’re told that the ‘right’ body size is a fabrication cooked up by the shadowy space of society that no one talks about and that has its headquarters located in deep space. Then, after that, Zach Galifianakis is advocating for the power of yoga. Granted, the film does a lot of things right, particularly finding its footing in a realistic take on self-esteem and inner strength, and thankfully the romantic interest of Calvin never strayed into white-male saviour territory, but there’s a hell of a lot going on in A Wrinkle in Time and not all of it is Disney at its peak.
Storm Reid makes an impressive mark as Meg, a thirteen-year old who is struggling with school and home life after the disappearance of her renowned scientist father Alex four years earlier. Her little brother, Charles Wallace, is a gifted child prodigy who speaks in odd turns of phrase and wisdom beyond his years – or rather, I’m assuming that was the goal when his clunky dialogue was filtered into the script. After Charles Wallace lets in an oddly cladded woman (Reese Witherspoon) one night who tells the family that their father’s tesseract (or, perhaps, the first space-hopper of its kind) is real and that he is somewhere out there – alive and well – Meg and Charles Wallace brave the stars to find him.
The outlandish stranger is Mrs Whatsit, the first of three astral travellers who offer their services to help their quest. Also part of the group is Mrs Who (Mindy Kaling) who, often to a point of frustration, only speaks in quotes from other people because she is simply “beyond language”. The feat seems another attempt to force as much contrived insight into the script as possible before someone can feasibly label it a 2-hour long TED Talk, which it often borders tentatively on collapsing into. Completing the trio is Mrs Which, the oldest and wisest of the bunch, who appears as a giant, Oprah Winfrey-shaped colossus on Meg’s lawn like an ethereal empress welded with iffy CGI, here to take names and endorse televised giveaways. Together, the group are straight from a Legend of Zelda game – as is the film’s structure – and we lose sight of them halfway through as easily as they came into focus to begin with.
The film’s climax, an emotional confrontation between Meg and the IT – not a disguised-clown eldritch in this universe, but a vague dark shadow spreading across the universe which is responsible for all the anger, sadness and low self-esteem in the world – redeems the film from complete obscurity and recalls the likes of a similar peak in 2017’s A Monster Calls. There are no real monsters in A Wrinkle in Time, though, and very little else to make sense of, even as I try to see through the perception I had as a confused and angry thirteen-year old myself. But it’s the kind of sickly sweet movie that harps on about the inherent good-naturedness of humanity so much that it’s difficult to disagree. It’s a place where Meg asks her new pal Calvin to join her in her time-space journey and he agrees as readily as if she’d asked him to join her on a walk to the nearby 7-Eleven. Really, it’s the kind of movie where you can decide to do something and just bloody do it, and where no questions are off limits because everyone’s so damn thoughtful and nice. Which is, believe it or not, kind of hard to dislike.
A Wrinkle in Time (2018), directed by Ava DuVernay, is distributed in the UK by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, certificate PG.