Adults won’t care much for Neither will children, writes
In the weeks of hype and overappreciation and generally unequivocal gushing that followed the release of Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther, the other black-directed major budget Disney film of the year seemed to have been forgotten. Adapted from a hugely successful 1962 children’s fantasy novel by devout Christian Madeleine L’Engle, Ava DuVernay’s A Wrinkle in Time is a very different and ultimately glaringly disappointing $100-million enterprise that has nothing to endear it to adult audiences or fans of the original material and not much in the way of appeal to children.
Though DuVernay’s broader project of knocking down the barriers of Hollywood to promote greater representation for black and female voices is undeniably commendable, honourable and necessary, her decision to take on this particular film — written by others and proposed by Disney rather than based on her own initiation — is perplexing and the product bears this out.
Updating L’Engle’s book and changing the racial makeup of the story, the film follows the journey of Meg (Storm Reid) a 13-year-old who since the disappearance of her scientist father (Chris Pine) has become sullen and passively aggressive, much to the exasperation of her mother (Gugu MbathaRaw) and her precocious adopted brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe).
When her brother introduces her to Mrs Which (Reese Witherspoon), a flighty stranger dressed in white, Meg inexplicably attracts the undivided attention of a young neighbourhood admirer named Calvin (Levi Miller) and the stage is set for our three young heroes to make a very familiar journey into another dimension, where they hope to rescue dad from the clutches of an evil monster known only as the It. Along the way they’ll meet the quotespouting Mrs Who (Mindy Kaling) and the size-shifting Mrs Whatsit (Oprah Winfrey, sporting a portentous hairdo and tacky sequined eyebrows that make her look like a party girl at Studio 54).
It takes DuVernay only 15 minutes or so to rush through the introduction of her protagonists before planting them on a planet far away from home. So we’re not given much time to develop empathy for Meg and her struggles — either internal or intergalactic. However, that turns out to be a small failure in the grander scheme of the film — the bigger and more unforgivable failure is the lack of wonder or visual play with which the world beyond ours is dealt with. The fantasy elements are lacklustre and unengaging and come off with less wonder than a Travel Channel insert. While the story is supposed to explore a young girl’s coming of age and the complexities that such a search entails, it’s all rather messy and unfocused and without much wit, charm or energy.
DuVernay has said she sees the project as a chance to make a more inclusive, relevant version of The Neverending Story. But perhaps the earnestness of such an endeavour has overwhelmed her to the extent that she’s lost sight of the basic elements of adventure and amazement that are necessary to drive the project.
You might argue that if the film had not been released so soon after the juggernaut that has become Black Panther there would be less to criticise, because there would be less to compare it to, and while the two films are certainly different in their intentions, comparisons are unavoidable.
It’s all rather messy and unfocused and without much wit, charm or energy
A Wrinkle in Time is on circuit
Reese Witherspoon as Mrs Which and Meg (Storm Reid ) in ‘A Wrinkle in Time’, a lacklustre fantasy film.