As a classic of children’s literature, A Wrinkle in Time has been ripe for a big budget film adaptation for years. When Disney announced that they were going to be putting one out in 2018 with a big (BIG) budget, it was almost certain to be beautiful. The story adaptation, however, which is a science fiction tale of two children crossing the galaxy to rescue their father, was less of a guaranteed hit. Disney hired Ava DuVernay to direct and Jennifer Lee of Frozen fame to write the script, and the two women have created a film that is not a direct adaptation but maintains all the soul of the original material.
Meg Murry (Storm Reid) is an outsider, she drifts on the peripheral of her school and faces bullying from the other students and the principal, with only her sweet 6-year-old little brother, Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe), for a friend. 4 years ago, her father (Chris Pine), a NASA scientist, disappeared and things haven’t been the same since he left. One dark and stormy night a strange woman, Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon) comes calling and hands out some cryptic advice before flitting off into the thunderstorm. Meg and her mother are alarmed to learn that little Charles Wallace has made friends with Mrs. Whatsit and two other women, Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling) and Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey) and Meg is certain they can’t be trusted.
When she and Charles Wallace run into a boy from Meg’s school, Calvin (Levi Miller), who has taken a liking to Meg, he ends up coming home for dinner with them, setting the stage for the adventure to come. Calvin and Meg discover that Charles Wallace and the three women are planning to find the Murry children’s father and when they are confronted with the change to start, Calvin agrees to come along. Their space spanning journey starts out well enough, on a beautiful green planet that is one of the more spectacular scenes of the film, but they soon find out that their search is really a rescue mission.
The budget for A Wrinkle in Time was over a 100 million, and it shows, but not only in the CGI and special effects, although those, of course, are incredibly well done. The costumes of the three missuses are intricately designed with each woman’s personality carefully considered and reflected in the elaborate style and colors of their makeup, clothing, and hairstyles. The backgrounds and set design all feel carefully considered with a focus on the details to help provide the context for the fast-moving plot.
The cast of a Wrinkle in Time is an impressive ensemble, with the adults played by seasoned A-list actors who are bringing every bit of their talent to these roles. Storm Reid is an inspired choice to play Meg Murphy, she turns in a subtle performance that captures the angst, frustration and uncertainty of children of that age while also being entirely relatable. As the almost frighteningly precocious Charles Wallace, Deric McCabe is able to portray the characters intense intelligence without becoming obnoxious, a feat for a child of that age. Levi Miller isn’t given much to do beyond be supportive and caring to the other two children, but he does it well enough. The Murphy parents, Chris Pine and Gugu Mbatha-Raw are excellent, but Mbatha-Raw doesn’t get nearly enough screen time.
At face value, A Wrinkle in Time is a science fiction adventure story for children, but throughout the book and the film, there runs a message of self-acceptance. Meg’s character hates herself and we see her inability to believe in her own worth or talents and how much the loss of her father has deeply affected her. As she travels through the galaxy and tries to rescue her father, she is forced to reckon with these feelings and realizes that she must examine these harmful ideas and learn to love herself or she will fail in her goal. The film goes some dark places, as all the best children’s films do, but its honest and genuine message will resonate with children who are going through these same feelings.
Ava DuVernay unabashedly aimed to make A Wrinkle in Time a more inclusive story with a wider racial representation than in the novel. She set the film in Compton, with a biracial heroine and a widely diverse cast and it is that more than anything else that makes the film feel like it takes place in our current time. Though the setting may be different, DuVernay maintains the same themes and message of the novel and with her changes, it feels more relevant than ever. A Wrinkle in Time is a rare film for children that doesn’t shy away from the difficult realities of life but also shows a way forward to a better world.