In A Wrinkle in Time, a giant-sized Oprah towers over the world like a goddess, arching her bejewelled eyebrows, wearing glittering outfits and dispensing advice. Mindy Kaling offers wisdom in quote form, cribbing as much from age-old sages as current popular culture. Meanwhile, Reese Witherspoon is full of goofiness and good cheer — when she's not turning into a flying lettuce leaf. With names like Mrs. Which, Mrs. Who and Mrs. Whatsit, the three actresses play magical beings intent on helping 13-year-old Meg Murry (Storm Reid) find her missing astrophysicist father (Chris Pine). They're also pivotal to this fantastical film.
Make no mistake: A Wrinkle in Time is Meg's movie. Based on the 1962 novel of the same name, it's the story of a girl who's not only uncertain in her own skin, but is uncertain about her place in the world since her dad disappeared. When the three Mrs arrive in her life — claiming to know where her father is and eager to spirit her away to a parallel dimension — Meg is instantly wary, even when her super-smart younger brother (Deric McCabe) tries to quell her fears. Meg has other things on her mind as well: she's being bullied by the girl next door (Rowan Blanchard), particularly about her hair, and she's not quite sure why her cute classmate (Levi Miller) suddenly wants to be her friend. Still, she's intrigued by her new celestial pals (as odd and otherworldly as they clearly seem), largely because they're also so sincere and genuine.
That's the kind of film that Meg and the Mrs are in, after all: earnest from start to finish, and unashamed to wear its heart on its sleeves and every other piece of multi-coloured clothing in sight. It's the type of movie that really isn't made all that often these days — a movie that owns its brand of sentimental optimism, doesn't try to be anything else, and doesn't really try to appeal to adults either. While A Wrinkle in Time has garnered significant attention thanks to its high-profile stars, it's ultimately an upbeat and affectionate kids' sci-fi/adventure flick through and through. Filled with child-friendly messages about believing in yourself and your intelligence, choosing hope over darkness, and trusting that good will prevail over evil, the film is basically an Oprah-style empowerment lesson for everyone under the age of 15. Pre-teen and teenage girls will be wrinkling their faces with happiness.
For those familiar with the book, this shouldn't come as a shock. The source material has been considered unfilmable for decades, with the only other attempt coming courtesy of a 2003 TV movie. Given that the episodic narrative toys with time travel, hops between wondrous planets, and tasks Meg with evading a tentacled monster, it shouldn't surprise anyone who hasn't read the novel either. That said, A Wrinkle in Time proves a nice throwback to the live-action family fare that Disney used to pump out in the '60s, '70s and '80s, including on television. Indeed, even if you're not in the obvious target market, the fact that the movie is so committed to its old-school, old-fashioned vibe is admirable.
Jumping from powerful civil rights drama Selma and race-relations documentary 13th to something completely different, director Ava DuVernay hits the mark in more places than just the film's all-ages vibe. She gets the best out of her diverse cast, especially the younger players, with Reid a picture of relatable, youthful awkwardness, and Aussie actor Miller (Jasper Jones, Better Watch Out) continuing his great run of late. From the bright costumes to the overall explosion of special effects, DuVernay also ensures that everything looks and feels like a larger-than-life fantasy in every frame. Her quest to make a big-thinking, big-hearted kids' flick is always apparent, but like A Wrinkle in Time's gossiping flowers — yes, there's a field of flowers that literally gossip — the movie's beauty and its limitations go hand-in-hand.