by Alison Standish, FILM CRITIC
3 March 2018
Oprah Winfrey stars as Mrs. Which in Disney’s big screen adaptation of Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. Photo courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures.
Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time is a remarkable children’s novel about the power of love over hate, the prevailance of good over evil, and the complexity of the depth of the universe and how it relates to humankind.
The story follows young Meg Murry, her little brother Charles Wallace, and her friend Calvin O’Keefe through the vast mysteries of space as they “tesser” through the space time continuum on a quest to find the Murry’s missing father, a brilliant scientist who has disappeared into outer space. Guided by three mythical beings, Mrs. Which, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Whatsit, they use Mr. Murry’s scientific discoveries, allowing them to “wrinkle” the very fabric of space and visit a variety of strange planets, travelling through a fifth dimension. The underlying theme of the novel is that of love over hate, as Meg, Calvin, and Charles Wallace attempt to defeat a powerful evil presence that’s slowly taking over the universe, a presence known as “It.”
The novel is thought-provoking and complex. It’s deep, and it doesn’t sugar-coat any of its depth.
Disney’s movie adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time, released March 9th, tries very hard, but it cannot bring to light the inordinate complexities of L’Engle’s work. Rather than skyrocketing into plot, character, and theme development, this movie plays it safe with powerful visuals and simple characters, omitting much of what made L’Engle’s novel so incredible.
Disney’s adaptation of L’Engle’s characters are shallow and confusing. Meg Murry, (Storm Reid) who’s significantly rattled by her father’s disappearance, is constantly referred to as either “a mess,” “a troublemaker,” or just plain “weird.” The movie is focused primarily on her, and on her journey to finding herself. However, viewers never see enough of Meg’s personality to understand the significance behind this journey. Near the beginning of the film, Meg is told by Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey) that in order to “tesser” properly she must learn to love herself, because after “tessering,” she needs to return to herself. Meg replies by asking if it’s possible for her to return as someone else.
We know Meg dislikes herself, but we never learn exactly why. This is all very disappointing, especially because the movie focuses so much on Meg herself. She’s constantly being told to “find herself,” and to “love herself.” Maybe if her character was drastically more developed, these themes of self discovery could have made more sense.
Rather than skyrocketing into plot, character, and theme development, this movie plays it safe with powerful visuals and simple characters, omitting much of what made L’Engle’s novel so incredible.
Another disappointing aspect of this movie was the complete loss of Calvin’s (Levi Miller) character. In the book, Calvin is strong and endearing, a good friend to Meg, and a valuable aide throughout their journey. The movie strips Calvin of his entire personality, transforming him instead to a rather pointless character who serves no purpose except to follow Meg around the galaxy with wide eyes, complimenting her every move.
Meg’s little brother, Charles Wallace, was also significantly downplayed. In the novel, he’s a winsome premature genius who moved the plot along with his frequent bouts of impressive knowledge. Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe) moves the plot in the movie but this time in the role of some sort of glorified Dora the Explorer, yanking characters by the hand and squealing “Come on!” in a squealing, high pitched voice every two seconds. If he’s wise, the audience doesn’t see it. The movie version of Charles Wallace isn’t lovably smart, rather, he’s nothing short of annoying.
These characters are tasked with the complicated rescue of Mr. Murry (Meg and Charles’ father), a rescue that involves a battle between good and evil. This battle is significantly underdeveloped, only because the characters are underdeveloped. Maybe if the audience knew who these characters were, they’d know why they’re fighting evil.
Not only are the characters shallow, but the graphics of A Wrinkle in Time, are attractive yet unexplained.
The graphics are, undeniably, one of the best parts of the movie. They’re breathtakingly colorful and complex, and they’re most certainly unique. From the sunny, flowery scenery of planet Uriel and the strange, perplexing white tunnel in the planet Camazotz to the sparkly, scintillating makeup of the three celestial goddesses, the visual aspect of the movie is definitely one of it’s greatest features. However, it doesn’t come with much explanation. Explaining the graphics would involve explaining the story, which would involve delving into the almost spiritual sagacity that exists in the novel, the sophistication that comes with L’Engle’s speculations on the depths of the universe. This is something that the Disney movie does not do.
It’s cool to see a two-dimensional room, a flowery landscape, a few celestial goddesses with bejeweled faces, and a thunderous hurricane. But all that glitz and glamour doesn’t mean anything when the audience doesn’t know why it’s there, and they don’t. (Though many of the surreal, cosmic scenes in the story are left ambiguous in the novel, the majority of them are explained either through imagery or narration.)
Like the dark planet of Camazotz, Disney’s A Wrinkle in Time has many faces. The beautiful graphics almost seem to have been overplayed for the sheer purpose of distraction from the overwhelming lack of character and story development.
Characters zip through time and space without any explanation as to how, evil is confronted and fought without much explanation as to why, and characters “find themselves” with little to no context as to who they are. Audience members might be dazed by the beauty of the movie and the “feel good” aspects of the story, only to walk out of the theater and ask themselves: “what just happened?” The answer to that question can only be found within the novel.
“The book was better,” literary enthusiasts often say of book/movie adaptations. Sometimes they’re right, and sometimes they’re wrong. But in the case of A Wrinkle in Time, this phrase has never been more true.
A Wrinkle in Time is rated PG.
Alison Standish is a film critic for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the HOWL