Written By: Nick Poulimenakos
In 2003, Disney released its first adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. The film gave L’Engle an opportunity to finally see one of her finest works, which boasted visionary character designs and ideas, brought to life by a major film studio. Unfortunately, the film was a critical dud with L’Engle even being quoted as saying “I expected it to be bad, and it is.” Fast forward to 2017 and Disney has once again attempted to bring L’Engle’s work to life, this time with a theatrical release, a star-studded cast, a script co-written by Frozen’s Jennifer Lee and Ava DuVernay as its director.
Given that Disney’s last venture with the source material failed miserably, it is easy to see why fans would keep their expectations in check. After all, the more anticipation rises, the more likely it is to feel disappointed with the final result. Disney’s resolve to fix their prior mistake greatly benefits from the massive strides technology in filmmaking has made. It was now possible to properly construct the various worlds L’Engle wrote about in her novel. Add in the fact that a woman of colour was at the centre of the film and Disney had one of the most anticipated films of 2018. In the end, Ava DuVernay’s A Wrinkle in Time boldly challenges what it means to be different while still keeping the heart and spirit of the book and, despite its problems, delivers an entertaining and fun-filled adventure that will have every child and even adult smiling once they leave the theatre.
A Wrinkle in Time follows Meg Murry who, along with her genius brother Charles Wallace, have been without their scientist father, Mr. Murry, for four years now after he disappeared. Prior to vanishing, Mr. Murry had discovered a new planet and used the concept known as a tesseract to travel there. Upon discovering that their father is indeed alive as well as being held captive by a universe-spanning evil, Meg, her brother and classmate Calvin O’Keefe are guided by the three mysterious astral travelers known as Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which on a dangerous and exciting journey to defeat the evil and save her father.
Make no mistake, when it comes to A Wrinkle in Time, it is a children’s film through and through. DuVernay herself has even stated that this film was made with children as the intended audience. This is not surprising as it is a Disney film, but it seems that in today’s day and age of filmmaking, family entertainment is expected to consider the adult first and the child second. A film is likely to have storytelling that puts adult nostalgia at the forefront to remind the elders in the audience of what it was like to be a kid. But A Wrinkle in Time is a family film that puts the children first, chronicling the life of a woman of colour who comes from a broken home, feeling scared and alone. A child who knows she is better than the underachiever she presents herself to be and the journey she goes on to truly discover who she is. This is a film that calls on adult fans to let go for a minute and simply enjoy as their children will, because they will see themselves in the film.
Ava DuVernay has been outspoken on her dedication to inclusion and diversity in filmmaking and A Wrinkle in Time serves as a message to young black girls. In a needed change of events, the black girl does not play sidekick to the white lead. She demonstrates several emotions over the course of the film such as happiness, rage and anxiety. It is a woman of colour who saves the world, bringing light to the overtaking darkness and is portrayed as smart, beautiful and loved. Like Black Panther before it, A Wrinkle in Time allows for young black girls to finally see themselves on screen and learn that it is okay to be different, to be the smartest and bravest one in the room.
In a story filled with tragedy, adventure and pure joy, DuVernay offers life lessons that not many people usually want to hear. Our expectations of our heroes may not turn out the way we want them to, but in that disappointment, we learn to move forward. Despite our flaws, we overcome, because it is within our flaws that we learn to accept them and improve who we are. The misconceptions we have about ourselves are there to help us realize who we are meant to become. There is no growth without faults and the feeling of losing something can lead to a moment of discovery and A Wrinkle in Time expertly demonstrates the importance of learning from the past to help reshape our futures.
As I said, at the film’s core is a woman of colour and Storm Reid gives a powerful and emotional performance as Meg Murry. This is a character who is unsure about how she fits into the world and the constant conflict inside of her moods and responses dictates how she presents herself to family and friends. Reid excels as the reclusive but brave young heroine as she works towards reuniting with her lost father. Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon and Mindy Kaling star as the three space travellers, Mrs. Which, Mrs. Whatsit and Mrs. Who and of the three, Oprah is the major standout. That’s not to take away from Witherspoon and Kaling’s performances as they were both solid but Winfrey’s wonderful portrayal of the wise guardian is an absolute treat to watch. The larger-than-life character is the one who pushes Meg to become a warrior through her methods of tough but nurturing love and Winfrey plays the part beautifully.
Out of the entire main cast however, it is Chris Pine who is the show-stealer. Coming off his powerhouse performance in Wonder Woman, Pine brings a level of charisma and fatherly love that elevates the film’s themes. This is a man who wants nothing more than to move past his “eccentric” label and become the greatest but realizes that through his work, he lost the one thing he loved most in the world, his family. Pine is captivating and sharp and the film does a great job of fleshing out his relationship with his daughter.
Unfortunately, A Wrinkle in Time is far from perfect and the film does have a few glaring flaws. Levi Miller stars as Calvin O’Keefe, one of Meg’s companion’s on her journey and he is not given nearly enough material to make an impact on the audience. His sequences with Meg are fun to watch but the film opts to focus less on O’Keefe’s journey in the film and make him a simple sidekick of Murry. Additionally, the pacing of the film felt jarring as it would jump from one set-piece to the next at a rapid pace. In moments where you felt entranced by what is transpiring on screen, something would interfere and bring the film back down a gear. The soundtrack as well felt a bit out of place at certain points. Given that it is a Disney film, music plays a big role but it did not quite land here. Again, that is not to say that every song felt out of place, but the pop music used did not elevate the emotional moments of the film. I should also preface that this is not in reference to Ramin Djawadi’s score. Which brings me to my next point.
A Wrinkle in Time has an incredible score, entirely composed by Game of Thrones’ Ramin Djawadi. The melodic, charismatic score pulls the audience deeper into the sequence whenever heard in the background. Djawadi manages to pull all the stops as he pulls together a 71-piece orchestra, a 40-voice choir and a 24-voice children’s choir for his boundless compositions. Specifically, his “bending” of notes whenever Meg and the Mrs. W’s are on screen is both startling but also enticing as Djawadi himself says that the most versatile of the instruments is the human voice, which led to the choir sliding up the scale with the orchestra playing a more traditional arrangement.
As seen in its trailers, the film has some incredible visuals. What you see on screen will be weird and borderline unreal and sometimes, they do not always land but overall, as a viewer, you will be transported to every otherworldly land that was thought of originally by Madeleine L’Engle herself. Beautiful wildlife, a bright sky and incredible costumes grace the screen from start to finish as the soft transitions between scenes is barely noticeable.
A Wrinkle in Time is a film that, in spite of some clashing visuals and inconsistent plot points, delivers an incredibly important message about moving on from the past and accepting who you are. DuVernay’s vision for a book that some have called “un-filmable” is an inspiring but also strange, irreverent tale of family that will resonate with viewers of all generations. It is a children’s film that embraces diversity and gives fans of Madeleine L’Engle’s famous novel the adaptation they always hoped for.
Nick’s Rating – 7.8/10
A Wrinkle in Time is in theatres everywhere now.
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