Meg Murry (Storm Reid) acts out at school from frustration at her scientist father Alex’s (Chris Pine) four year-long absence. One day, a strange woman who calls herself Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon) appears before Meg and her brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe) and the next day, Meg, Charles Wallace and their new friend Calvin (Levi Miller – Pan, Better Watch Out) meet two more peculiar women named Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling) and Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey). The "Mrs. Ws" inform the youths that Meg and Charles Wallace’s father is lost somewhere in the universe, beyond where space and time can reach him. They go on an epic quest to find him.
You know those laser pointers that cats go nuts for? That’s a bit what A Wrinkle in Time feels like. It’s shiny, bright, harmless and facile. Some audiences, most likely young’uns, will be totally mesmerised by it, but most of us will have a human, vaguely interested response.
Based on Madeleine L'Engle’s classic novel of the same name, one can see how the story would have worked better in book than film format. The fact that the source material is over fifty years old shows as the airy fairy quality to the three "Mrs. Ws" feels a bit outdated. Even with the always incredible Oprah Winfrey (the first couple of times we meet her character, she is gigantic, a not-so-subtle nod to Oprah’s larger-than-life presence), Mindy Kaling and Reese Witherspoon playing them, it’s hard to buy into their characters as contemporary ‘women warriors of the universe’. They seem to be there to just explain what’s going on and push the three young leads along their merry way.
The design of each region of the universe, while visually lovely, lacks the expansiveness that readers likely imagined while reading L'Engle’s book. It gets quite trippy at times, for example, at one point, Reese Witherspoon’s character gets naked and turns into this leaf dragon slash flying squirrel creature. The production design emphasises magic, colour and wonder in a way that will certainly appeal to kids. A Wrinkle in Time wears its Disney heart firmly on its sleeve with moments in the movie recalling Cinderella, Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland and Pete’s Dragon. Again, the attraction for young audiences is undeniable.
There is a surrealness to some of the casting choices with Michael Peña’s appearance seeming pointless while Zach Galifianakis plays some kind of yoga master who was likely meant to inspire laughs but, like so many characters and elements of the movie, is just kind of odd. Storm Reid, who previously had a small role in 12 Years a Slave, is sweet and effortlessly sympathetic while the even younger Deric McCabe gets to really shine in the film’s third act.
It’s all very nicey-nicey, corny, and frustratingly simplistic. The idea of this evil presence as causing people to be sh***y – as opposed to them being sh***y through their own choices and actions – is particularly juvenile. The movie has enough flashiness and momentum to keep most diverted for its appropriate 1 hour and 45 minute duration, while its touching message (primarily for pre-teens and teenagers whose insecurities are the movie's bullseye) that you should love and value yourself exactly as you are is guaranteed to tug on the heart strings.