In Disney’s A Wrinkle In Time, it is not freedom, science, religion, or the great battle between good and evil that is really important. No, it’s the self esteem of the main protagonist Meg (Storm Reid). A strange choice since the book it’s based on is about a journey through time and space that effortlessly fuses science, religion, and art. It seems Disney doesn’t exactly know how to tell a story where the girl is not the one with a destiny and special powers. Rather, it is her brother, Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe) who is gifted and thus desired by the forces of evil.
Since Meg cannot be The One, Wrinkle is left floundering, with no sense of identity. Nevermind that in the book she didn’t need to be anything but herself to go on their journey. The movie is so busy trying to give her a greater sense of importance, it cannot even begin to incorporate all of the source material’s themes into anything remotely resembling a cohesive whole. And the character they are so desperately trying to do right by suffers for it, along with the rest of the film.
Meg certainly has a lot on her plate when the story begins. Her father Mr. Murry (Chris Pine), a scientist who was studying new means of achieving intergalactic travel, has been missing for four years, and it’s understandably still taking its toll on her. She’s isolated herself from her peers, has to put up with some pretty vicious bullying at school, and is starting to lose hope that he will ever return. But then she, Charles Wallace, and Calvin (Levi Miller), a dreamy boy from her school, meet three mysterious, unearthly beings, Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling), and Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey), who reveal that Mr. Murry is alive, and rescuing him is part of a larger battle between light and darkness. These three especially are a testament to this movie’s determination to waste all of its great potential. These women are warriors, committed to the cause of fighting for the light, but they come across less as characters than as bundles of quirks.
Since the movie can’t decide what it wants to be, it ends up being nothing. Meg’s intelligence is only used as a plot point, and her brother’s abilities are never given any development. Some of the narrative choices serve only as excuses to give Meg and Calvin some alone time so Calvin can be her dream boat while contributing absolutely nothing on their journey. The odd thing is that Calvin is shoved into kind of role women traditionally played on adventures, that of the perfect, good-looking companion who serves as an unwavering source of support and ego boost for the true hero of the story.
Even more strange, Wrinkle refuses to place its characters in any form of real danger. It not only means their antagonists never feel truly alive, but also that any growth Meg and her companions experience come across hollow. The darkness they fight is said to have its home on the planet Camazotz where their father is being kept prisoner, but Camazotz is barely shown. The inhabitants’ conformity is established enough so that it comes off as the suburb from hell, but there’s no sense of how it really functions; IT, the force that controls them, barely has any personality at all.
And in the end, what is learned has nothing to do with courage, sacrifice, or any real discussions of just how seductive it can be to give in to the darkness. No, what we learn is the same old lesson about family, where Mr. Murry is shamed for leaving, as if exploration and knowledge weren’t valuable in themselves, and that it was his fault he was kept prisoner and prevented from returning to his family.
Even all this is not truly the most frustrating thing about A Wrinkle In Time. It’s the fact that this is the perfect time, really the perfect moment for it, and there are all the necessary ingredients to make it great. The cast is fantastic, the effects are amazing, and Ava DuVernay’s greatness is beyond dispute. But there’s only so much even the greatest can do when they’re saddled with such lazy, uninspired writing. Jennifer Lee (Frozen, Wreck-It Ralph, and Zootopia) and Jeff Stockwell (Bridge to Terabithia) seem unable to address race, making the movie’s diversity little more than stunt casting. It’s absolutely mystifying, seeing as how DuVernay has repeatedly led the charge for more inclusion on film sets, and Wrinkle hits theaters only a few weeks after Black Panther, with Ryan Coogler and Ava DuVernay reportedly editing their films right across the hall from each other on the Disney lot. Was DuVernay not allowed to explore deeper themes with the same freedom as Coogler? It’s disturbing that the movie seems to think that girls or women cannot be great simply by being themselves, only by having special abilities or ultimately serving as sidekicks to a male hero with a greater cause.