Last week I reviewed “Red Sparrow,” a spy movie with a typical spy movie plot. All of the characters had their own agenda, loyalties kept flip-flopping around, and there was a lot of confusion over who could and couldn’t be trusted. The plot of that movie was way easier to follow than that of “A Wrinkle in Time,” the new kids’ movie from Disney. The film is absolutely nonsensical, and not in the fun “they’re wearing socks on their hands and mittens on their feet” kind of way, but the annoying “I know there’s an explanation for this, but the film forgot to include it” kind of way.
Storm Reid stars as Meg Murry, a teenage girl whose scientist father (Chris Pine) has been missing for four years. She spends her days getting bullied over her absent father and looking after her genius-but-awkward little brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe). Charles Wallace keeps reaching out to the universe for some sign that their father is still alive. The universe answers in the form of three mysterious women: Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling), and Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey). The women offer to take Meg, her friend Calvin (Levi Miller), and Charles Wallace on a journey across the universe to find their father. Of course, the siblings’ mother (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) can’t come, and the kids can’t even leave a note for her because of… urgency I think was the unacceptable reason given.
The three women whisk the kids away to a distant planet. It’s a colorful, beautiful world marred by Mrs. Whatsit transforming herself into a shoddy CGI leaf-creature. Thankfully there’s little time to frolic with the creature because an evil presence makes itself known. “The It” is responsible for all the negative energy in the world, though it usually only poisons people’s minds a little bit at a time, just enough to turn them into jerks. The group learns through the vision of a grumpy Happy Medium (Zach Galifianakis) that the father had discovered a tesseract that allowed for instantaneous universal travel, but on his maiden voyage he got swallowed up and imprisoned by The It. The kids go on a quest to rescue the father from The It, but the women can’t come with them because their energy is so low. The movie is so bad at defining the scope of the women’s powers that we had no idea they had a finite amount of energy. It’s pretty transparent that the film just wanted an excuse to write the women out of the third act so the kids could have to rescue the father unsupervised.
The movie wasn’t doing great up until the third act, but it’s there that it really falls apart. A character turns evil, and they make a terrible villain. I’m willing to say that the script, direction, and performer are all equally at fault for the terrible climactic sequence. Also, it’s not clear whether the character has just recently been poisoned by The It, or if they’ve been evil all along. Just like it’s not clear why the people on The It’s home planet act in happy, creepy synchronicity or why The It travels the way it does, or why any number of things in the movie happen the way they do.
“A Wrinkle in Time” means well. It wants to give kids an inspiring adventure movie featuring a multicultural cast with women at the forefront and a message about how love and resilience can conquer the toughest obstacles. The kids at my screening applauded at the end, and I’m glad they got something out of it. I honestly expected them to be as bored and confused as I was. I saw the film as little more than a narrative mess with a few decent emotional scenes. This is by no means a movie that panders to kids while adults roll their eyes, but I also can’t say that I think it qualifies as fun for the whole family.
“A Wrinkle in Time” is rated PG for some thematic elements and some peril. Its running time is 109 minutes.
Robert R. Garver is a graduate of the Cinema Studies program at New York University. His weekly movie reviews have been published since 2006.