A Wrinkle in Time Review: Disney’s Smug Fantasy Fails to Soar

Disney’s new live action film seeks to be an emotional voyage of self-discovery through a fantastical landscape. Storm Reid plays young Meg Murry who hopes to find her father who has gotten lost in a strange world that can be accessed through…love? Or being one’s self? But also there has to be something science-y or magic nearby. She is joined by her young brother Charles Wallace and school crush Calvin. They are assisted on their journey by three mysterious, eccentric women; Mrs Which (Oprah Winfrey), Mrs Whatsit (Reece Witherspoon) and Mrs Who (Mindy Kaling).

The fantastical setting of most of the film is beautifully strange. From rolling green hills filled with sentient flowers to a bizarre simulacrum of a 50s suburban neighbourhood (it’s rigid adherence to routine implying a kind of hell) the film certainly has a unique aesthetic. The film jumps just a little too readily from hard science (quantum entanglement) to magic women made out of flowing fabrics (Witherspoon entanglement). This crazy world is never fully explored or really explained. The title is a Wrinkle in Time, but it’s space that they traverse.

It is clear from how Ava DuVernay directs the film that the focus is, in fact, the characters who inhabit this world, and this is unfortunately to the films detriment as it lacks compelling supporting characters. They are all just a little too quirky or eccentric, which is often more irritating than charming. Everyone has a self-satisfied smile as they offer their exposition or life advice, neither of which is as interesting or unique as it should be. Duverny likes to use tight close ups of her actors, occasionally forcing me to look away from the screen to escape their smugness. Charles Wallace (never Charles, never Wallace, always Charles Wallace) especially conforms to the trope of precocious Disney kids who act like older adults (in particular being exasperated at adults) for the purposes of being ‘adorable’.

Storm Reid, However, makes for a very sympathetic and charming lead. She brings great sophistication to her role, though I’m not sure the film is entirely on her side. She’s interesting because she is riddled with self-awareness, insecurities and fears, all of which it seems she must overcome. She is bullied cruelly at the start of the film by her peers at school. Strangely this abuse continues only at the hands of Mrs Whatsit who also criticises her and her actions, only now for comedic effect. In the big climactic confrontation with the It (the main antagonist of the film, and completely distinct from “the nothing” of an earlier kids movies) she receives further bullying which ultimately leads to her asserting herself. Perhaps the issue is that she had never received constructive bullying before.

The message is that she needs to learn to be the best version of herself, but being herself never actually helps her in the film. In fact it makes the search for her father significantly harder. Her love for her father is portrayed as being her greatest asset, which is a little demeaning. The movie runs against the moral of Inside Out; that Fear, Anger and Sadness are necessary parts of making a well-adjusted human being. Here all of those emotions come from a big evil cloud in the sky that you must overcome with the power of Love. Being a kid’s film doesn’t excuse it for being overly simple.

There are, however, some very memorable images and concepts. The mechanics of the film’s spiritualism put me in mind of David Mitchel and occasionally it invokes the big budget strangeness of Interstellar or Arrival, which is to its credit. I really cared for Meg Murry as a character and Chris Pine was charming as always. The highlight of the film is undoubtedly their touching reunion, the good performances and striking production design finally coming together to make something meaningful.

This is a kids film that I feel will struggle to engage older audiences. Having seen the trailers for “Duck Duck Goose” and “Sherlock Gnomes” both of which seem committed to aggressively marketing fart jokes at children, this is undoubtedly a fine film for children to watch. It may teach them to accept a broader range of aesthetics than they might be used to and there are some positive messages hidden amongst the shaming.  A unique though disappointing family fantasy film.

2 / 5

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