Adults won’t care much for Nei­ther will chil­dren, writes

Sunday Times - - Review - Ty­mon Smith

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.

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