Somewhere in another dimension, a version of David Lynch — with all his visual imagination and unique take on spirituality — is producing work exclusively for the Disney Channel. And this week, in some wrinkle of the space-time continuum, one of his works made its way into our world, in the form of Ava DuVernay’s “A Wrinkle in Time.”
To compare the new Disney fantasy film to something as gritty and inexplicable as something like Lynch’s “Twin Peaks: The Return” runs the risk of giving the false impression that “A Wrinkle in Time” is a wildly original, weird or particularly bold film. It’s not.
One foundational element of “The Return” missing from “A Wrinkle in Time,” understandably, is the freedom to be literally anything it wants to be. “A Wrinkle in Time” feels constrained by a Disney leash to hit certain beats and deliver a certain message.
But there’s enough similarities between the two to warrant a comparison, and that’s to DuVernay’s credit. She has largely succeeded in making visual sense of the baffling world imagined by author Madeleine L’Engle in her 1962 novel about a young girl whose scientist father goes missing.
L’Engle’s book has great cinematic potential, because the wacky visuals she had in mind were difficult to describe with just words. The book reverts to illustrations at times to help visualize some of the more difficult concepts it tackles, but even the actual descriptions of planets or transportation methods often stop short of detailed articulation in the novel, relying heavily on the reader’s imagination.
That cinematic potential doesn’t mean it’s an easy adaptation, however — quite the opposite. And DuVernay has assembled a team that managed to invent and realize visual ideas for the adaptation that are appropriately baffling and beautiful to behold.
Unfortunately, the movie is coming out in 2018, when studio films rely so heavily on CGI that any sense of weighted realism evaporates into the digital cloud. So for every two concepts that get brought to life with creativity and splendor, there’s one that looks like every other blockbuster fantasy, sterile and lifeless in its realization.
But “A Wrinkle in Time” is not only difficult to adapt because of its visual enigmas — it also contains some character qualities and plot points that are just tricky to get right. Charles Wallace, especially, the 6-year-old little brother of the protagonist Meg, is such a strange character, I didn’t even think the version of him I had in my head while I read the novel was a very good actor.
The script by Jennifer Lee (“Frozen”) and Jeff Stockwell (“Bridge to Terabithia”) fails to navigate some of these character-level challenges of the source material. Charles Wallace’s special abilities — and even more crucially, his special relationship to Meg — fall flat in the film version.
Lee and Stockwell make some good changes to the novel, like changing friend/love interest Calvin’s troubled home life from simply having a mother who is always frazzled and unkempt to having a father who is demanding and verbally abusive. But they didn’t seem to crack all of the challenges presented by the novel.
Meg, however, is great. Played with winning charm by Storm Reid (“12 Years a Slave”), I found following that character to be a delightful experience. And for all its faults, “A Wrinkle in Time” boasts much more originality than most other films of its kind. I’ll take this over a “live-action” “Beauty and the Beast” every day of the week.
“A Wrinkle in Time” is a film that reaches high, hitting difficult barriers at every possible level. It clears enough of them to consider it a success, and it’s the kind of movie I want to see more of. Just as Meg discovers about herself in both the novel and the film, faults are not always a sign of weakness.
Director: Ava DuVernay
Starring: Storm Reid, Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Chris Pine
Running time: 1 hour, 49 min
Rating: PG for thematic elements and some peril