The last time Ava DuVernay was behind the lens of a feature film, she earned a Best Picture nomination for 2014’s Selma. After that, she directed the famous trio of Apple ads (starring Mary J. Blige, Kerry Washington, and Taraji P. Henson), the Emmy-winning documentary 13th, and a music video for Jay-Z’s “Family Feud”. It’s a disparate resumé, to be sure, but the results go to show that it doesn’t really matter what project DuVernay is tackling—she can handle anything and handle it well.

Now she’s bringing Madeleine L’Engle’s famed novel A Wrinkle in Time to the screen for Disney, and it may be her most logistically challenging project yet. As fans of the book well know, the story is built on a foundation of fantasy and whimsy with all kinds of bizarre characters and strange goings-on. DuVernay, working from a script by Jennifer Lee (Frozen) and Jeff Stockwell, does her best to wrangle everything together, but she’s never really able to get a rhythm going—the film bounces between being a bit herky-jerky to downright incoherent. Still, Wrinkle manages to succeed, primarily as a visual wonder that will elicit endless oohs and aahs from the young-uns in the audience.

Storm Reid (12 Years a Slave) takes the lead as the beleaguered Meg, a teenager whose scientist father Dr. Alex Murry (Chris Pine) vanished without a trace four years earlier while working on a time-travel theory involving a “tesseract”. One night her adopted younger brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe) introduces Meg and their mom Kate (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) to Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), a magical being who lets everyone know that tesseracts are in fact real.

The next day the kids meet Meg’s classmate Calvin (Levi Miller) before Charles Wallace leads them to the home of Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling), a colleague of Mrs. Whatsit who speaks only in pithy quotes from famous people. And then they collectively meet Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey), who announces it’s time to go get Dr. Murry and bring him home.

From there, the entire gang bend time and distance and travel to Uriel, a planet populated by flower creatures, giving Mrs. Whatsit the chance to transform into a huge flying leaf and take the kids for a ride. They discover a giant black blotch in the sky—it’s It, the source of evil holding Dr. Murry prisoner. And then there’s a visit to the Happy Medium (Zach Galifianakis) and then a bit with an attacking forest, a weird Stepford Neighborhood Kids scene, and a beachside meeting with Red-Eyes Man (Michael Pena), who finally take the kids to meet It.

As nutty as the book was, it was spread out over a couple-hundred pages, so at least the bizarre happenings had some room to breathe. Condensing it all into a 100 minutes on a movie screen takes that away, and Wrinkle also can’t escape the Disney-fication it went through at the hands of its studio. Everything is so clean and pretty that the whole film feels like it’s been dipped in aspartame, and there are enough platitudes in the script to make Sunday School seem like a gym locker room. None of those are bad things, necessarily, particularly as tweens are the target audience, but adults may find themselves disappointed there’s not more in it for them.

DuVernay, for her part, takes full advantage of CGI technology, offering up endless amounts of eyeball-popping visuals, and the script is updated to feel timely, too; Mrs. Who quotes Outkast and Chris Tucker alongside Shakespeare. A Wrinkle in Time may in fact be an impossible book to film, but DuVernay gave it her best shot, and the result is about as good as one could hope for. Despite its faults, it’s still a magical ride worth taking.


3.5/5 stars

Worth the 3D glasses?

Absolutely and without question. Wrinkle‘s strength is in its visuals, and they are here a-plenty. Very few minutes go by without some kind of eye candy to make the plastic glasses worthwhile.