4 out of 5 stars (one of the best of the year)
This article was originally published on www.theboldopinion.com on March 23rd, 2018
Live-action Disney movies are a mixed bag. For every film that goes above and beyond expectations (Pete’s Dragon), there is one with irritatingly underused potential (Cinderella). Their newest film, A Wrinkle in Time, thankfully sits in the former category, with a mostly solid cast, colorful visuals, and, best of all, a truly empowering message for young children.
The film follows Meg (Storm Reid), a 13-year-old girl whose scientist father (Chris Pine) disappeared 4 years ago to prove his scientific theory of space/time travel. However, everyone in town thinks he just abandoned Meg, her adopted genius brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe), and his wife (Gugu-Mbatha-Raw), leaving Meg with abandonment issues. I applaud the movie for being subtle here instead of spelling it out to us. Nothing irritates me more than a film treating me like a simpleton.
Meg is surprised by the arrivals of Mrs. Whatsit (an enjoyably swarmy Reese Witherspoon), Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling), and Mrs. Which (A miscast Oprah), three mystical beings who claim to know where her father is. Despite her reservations, Meg, Charles Wallace, and school friend Calvin (Levi Miller) join the Mrs.’s on a journey through space to try and find their father, with a malevolent force not far behind.
Director Ava DuVernay has not taken the film’s bad press well, tweeting to Vulture editor Kyle Buchanan: “You were the only Caucasian journalist of any gender to see it, understand it, and ask me about it”. I applaud Buchanan for recognizing the themes, but believe it was a bad decision for DuVernay to bring race into the mix. Her calling out white people makes it appear as though DuVernay ignored or is unaware of the bad reviews from women and men of other races. However, the critics are at fault for claiming the film has a thin story without emotional impact. This was not made with adults in mind, but with children, especially young girls. I as a Caucasian male completely understood DuVernay’s intent and believe she achieved it. I admire her for exploring themes that very few childrens’ films attack with such honesty. This isn’t a cartoon; it’s a deep, dense narrative with subtle character arcs and thought-provoking ideas that should inspire children and the young at heart everywhere regardless of race.
That success comes first and foremost because of its characters. The kids are likable and ground the movie’s more absurd elements. I’m not currently, nor have I ever been, a 14-year-old girl, but I felt for Meg’s quest and rooted for her every step of the way. I’m sure her feelings of abandonment and lack of self-worth will ring true with young girls everywhere, regardless of their race or ethnicity. Young boys will also see strong role models in Charles Wallace and Calvin and learn to respect women as strong leaders (a lesson which, given the current climate in Hollywood, couldn’t have come at a better time).
The child actors do surprisingly well and don’t overplay their emotions. Meg easily could have been distant, but Storm Reid convincingly sells her low self-esteem with subtle facial expressions rather than constantly whining about her dad being gone. Deric McCabe exudes childlike innocence without being annoying, and Levi Miller displays unexpected depth. However, the Mrs. W’s are a mixed bag. Reese Witherspoon and Mindy Kaling provide humor and personality, but Oprah comes off like a pompous deity. Pine and Raw hit their emotional beats, and Zach Galifinakis has an amusing cameo.
If fantasy movies aren’t your cup of tea, then this certainly won’t do it for you. While I am not the world’s biggest fantasy fan, I was able to go along for the ride and enjoy the characters, visuals, and resonant themes without nitpicking the science of it. DuVernay has created worlds that, while not entirely original, are visually memorable and fun to spend time in. The computer graphics are effective without overstaying their welcome. My favorite sequence sees the children flying across a bright landscape that made me feel the thrill of flying as if for the first time. The climax also has some creepy visuals and produces good tension. Literary purists should know that much has been cut from the book. It works on its own, but fans should know they aren’t going to get a direct translation.
The films’ flaws are an inconsistent soundtrack, occasionally awkward camera placements, and The Big O. The songs aren’t bad, but the lyrics are distracting in certain scenes when the sweeping score would have done better. The camera also gets too close for my comfort to the character’s faces on some occasions, but it’s not enough to break the film. Lastly, Oprah fails to disappear into her character and delivers several forced inspirational speeches to Meg that had me waiting for her to turn the camera and say that “Everyone in the audience has a free bible under their seat!” I would have cast Octavia Spencer instead, as she has a more benevolent presence. DuVernay is a young director who hasn’t handled a big budget film before, so I’m willing to overlook these problems.
A Wrinkle in Time has relatable characters, a necessary message for young children, and a complex yet engrossing story. Sans Oprah, the performances are solid, the visuals are breathtaking and reminded me of The Sound of Music, and the score works magic. I hope to see more films that empower young girls without making men into morons. If you like fantasies, then I say See It.
Rated PG for Thematic Elements And Some Peril