“It was a dark and stormy night.”
Thus begins the 1962 Newbery Award-winning novel A Wrinkle in Time, written by Madeleine L’Engle. Over the years, this coming-of-age fantasy about Meg Murry and three oddly-named witches has captivated the thoughts and imaginations of millions of children worldwide. In Disney’s new adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time, Director Ava DuVernay (Selma) has taken L’Engle’s vision and created a dazzling tale of hope and love fit for today’s younger generation. We adults might find something to take from it as well—if we view the story from the eyes of a child.
A Wrinkle in Time is a very challenging work to translate from page to screen. It has a heavy scientific focus, takes place on numerous planets, contains fantastical creatures, and personifies the constant battle between darkness and light in an abnormal manner. There are a lot of missteps that can occur along the way, as Disney themselves learned when they attempted a direct-to-TV adaptation of Wrinkle in 2003. L’Engle’s thoughts? “I expected it to be bad, and it [was].”
I’ve learned over the last few weeks how few individuals have actually read the book (DuVernay and Oprah Winfrey only read it before accepting their roles in the film), so to assume knowledge of the basic plot isn’t a good idea. So here’s a quick summary:
A young girl named Meg (played by Storm Reid) has to deal with being a misunderstood child while living in a home with her two scientist parents (Chris Pine and Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and her brainiac younger brother, Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe). Four years after her dad goes missing while attempting to discover a new method of time travel, Meg and Charles Wallace are visited by three beings—Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling), and Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey)—who tell them their father is alive and take them on a trip across the universe (along with Calvin O’Keefe [Levi Miller], a student at Meg’s school) in an attempt to save him from IT, the embodiment of evil in the form of a pulsating human brain. Along the way, Meg learns much from the three beings about faith, love, and life itself.
In the film, Reid admirably shows Meg’s sensitivity, uncertainty, and fortitude of someone coping with the loss of her father and her desire to get him back, though she doesn’t know what she’s capable of. School isn’t easy in general, much less when you’re picked on and harassed by other kids as well as the principal. Meg is a storm (pun intended) waiting to be unleashed, which aptly depicts the opening line of the book. The beings—happy-go-lucky Mrs. Whatsit, wisdom-spouting Mrs. Who, and sage Mrs. Which, encourage Meg and her group along the way. They’re “in search of warriors . . . who can bring hope back.” Witherspoon shows some comedic range as Whatsit while Winfrey comes across as larger than life–literally at times. Kaling’s Mrs. Who isn’t given enough to work with and falls a bit flat for me. Zach Galifianakis, as the Happy Medium, provides some levity to the film.
But for me, the film rises and falls on the shoulders of 5 year-old Charles Wallace. McCabe doesn’t disappoint, absolutely stealing every scene he’s in. He’s charming, ebullient, and when possessed by IT, powerful and frightening. Pine’s portrayal of Dr. Alex Murry is scientific yet human; he gets to experience some of the same harassment Meg feels. It makes their reunion more touching. Mbatha-Raw provides necessary realism in her marriage to Dr. Murry through a number of flashbacks, but doesn’t do much else.
Wrinkle’s set designs are varied and interesting, from the earth-like majesty of Uriel to the claustrophobic confines of CENTRAL Central Intelligence. Her costume choices for the witches are majestic yet unique, as Winfrey sports jewels for eyebrows and Kaling’s Mrs. Who has a familiar phrase embroidered all over her outfit (see Isaiah 41:10). Witherspoon’s character, true to form, looks like she grabbed some sheets off Mrs. Buncombe’s clothesline and fashioned a dress from them.
DuVernay is willing to take some significant risks with the movie, which is a fancy way of saying that purists of the book will mostly be happy, but not with everything. The scientific aspect is played up heavily, to fantastic effect in Camazotz (the bouncing ball scene is appropriately scary and nervy). Mrs. Whatsit’s transformation into a unicornish beast on Uriel in the book becomes something akin to a leafy stingray (impressive-looking nevertheless). Fortinbras the dog makes an appearance, but Meg’s twin brothers Sandy and Dennys do not. Aunt Beast is basically nowhere to be found.
The faith aspect was a major part of L’Engle’s book, as she directly quoted passages from the Bible in sections. You’ll hear a more universalistic view on faith in the film as Mrs. Who quotes Gandhi, Buddha, and even Outkast. I would’ve loved a piece of Scripture in there to balance things out a bit, but perhaps the point to be made is to look deeper for the truth—just like Meg has to do in finding her father and combating the IT (there is one particular scene that may give those below the age of six  nightmares—parents be warned). Sometimes we have to believe before we can see, and as we get older, we have a more difficult time accomplishing this. There’s a reason Jesus said that “whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it” (Mark 10:15).
This, in my opinion, is why DuVernay said the film was geared to kids age 8-12—not adults. It also explains why my 15-old daughter enjoyed the film more than I did. Adults are likely going to see Wrinkle in a different light than their younger counterparts–and possibly pillory DuVernay in the process. But perhaps the right thing to do is step back, take a deep breath, and view A Wrinkle in Time through the lenses of Mrs. Who—lenses that remind us that children are the future and they will realize their potential before we know it (see: survivors of the Parkland HS shooting in Florida). And if we do, we’ll realize L’Engle (and DuVernay) have created works that have a whole lot more to offer than at first glance.