The team over at Disney are currently riding a hot streak, seemingly incapable of putting a foot wrong. However, their latest release, A Wrinkle in Time is not seeing the same unabashed love as some of Disney’s more recent films. Where does the child’s fantasy feature stand? What do you need to know before taking the kids to see A Wrinkle in Time?
A Wrinkle in Time is based on Madeline L’Engle’s popular children’s novel. The story follows Meg Murry (Storm Reid), her brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe) and Calvin (Levi Miller) as they search for the Wallace children’s missing father (Chris Pine). Together with the help of Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling), Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey) and Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), the children cross the universe on a journey to find not only their father, but themselves as well. The film comes from director Ava DuVernay from a script by Jennifer Lee and Jeff Stockwell.
I wish we had films like this when I was in middle school. DuVernay brings such a strong note of power and optimism to the narrative. We’re messy people. We’re uncoordinated. We have baggage. It’s important that we learn to love ourselves, all our flaws included.
As a character, Meg serves as a strong source of representation. She is a young woman and a person of color, who shares her father’s passion for science. The film is keenly aware of her potential for identification for a multitude of marginalized groups. She struggles with everything from her self-respect to her abilities and even her hair. In fact, she shows intense insecurity when Calvin compliments her hair. Towards act three, when the “It” shows the “more desirable” Meg, she has straight hair. This is such an important point, especially when considering her identity as a woman of color. In taking Meg on this hero’s journey, she learns an important message. It’s important to love yourself. Our flaws make us who we are.
This ties into the strength are these characters all around. As the final credits roll, I felt identification not only with Meg but Calvin and even Dr. Murry as well. Whether it was the elder Murry’s desire to make an important discovery, Meg’s deeply rooted insecurity or Calvin’s family struggles, there’s something to grab onto in each of these characters. These are real, relatable people populating this story and it definitely helps the emotional weight of the story. It’s a happy punch straight to the feels.
A Wrinkle in Time employs an interesting reversal of traditional gender roles in Meg and Calvin. In a particularly refreshing scene, Meg takes the agency as they struggle to outrun an oncoming twister. Suddenly, she realizes… this is a physics thing. She can solve this. In a hurried moment, she realizes if they jump inside a near-by stump, they will be thrown to safety. She looks to Calvin, “Do you trust me?”. How often have we heard that line said by the male hero to his damsel in distress?
The film continues examination throughout the narrative. Calvin stares adoringly at Meg, almost feeling like an internet meme. Ladies, find yourself a significant other who looks at you just like this… However, despite all of this, Calvin doesn’t fall into the typical character holes common to other romantic interests. There is the powerful hint of a difficult family life shaping his actions as the story continues.
DuVernay brings an interesting visual technique to A Wrinkle in Time. In the first act, the camera feels very tight on the action. It feels claustrophobic and clearly stands out as a definite stylistic choice. However, as the movie transitions into the second and third act, the camera work opens up a la The Wizard of Oz. This is a visual, CGI, glitter filled feast. The camera work is big, sweeping and knows just how to compliment the created landscape. There’s a lot to look at, and a tremendous amount for the creative team to be proud of.
The film’s biggest struggle is that it takes a while to reach its pace. The narrative is a hero’s journey and does tend to meander, especially through the first act as Meg struggles to find her footing. The “Mrs’” (Kaling, Witherspoon, and Winfrey) are fun and shiny, but are ultimately exist as products of a kids movie. Their scenes are cute, but the sight of a gigantic Oprah towering over the narrative is a struggle for many except the most uncynical of us all. However, once Meg, Calvin, and Charles Wallace are able to move off on their own, we see the characters and the emotional strength of the story really stand on its own.
The critical response to A Wrinkle in Time is coming back all over the map. Some people are loving it, while others hate it. Looking for a fun family movie to check out this weekend, there is no better choice. Director Ava DuVernay creates a rich and vivid environment, with the eye of a clear-eyed optimist. It’s a refreshing and emotional experience.
A Wrinkle in Time is playing in theaters around the country today.