Saturday, 24 March 2018

Bogged down by it's own worthiness

You want to love A Wrinkle in Time. You really do. And in really good ways. There’s not a message in it that most people would disagree with. It has a fabulous line for young viewers about actually liking yourself – not dieting to extremes, for instance, not hating yourself and oh, so much more. It’s incredibly ethnically diverse.

All of this is good.

And yet …

Madeleine L’Engle’s 1962 novel has now been adapted twice by Disney – in 2003, as a TV film and now in a big-screen version, directed by Ava DuVernay.

It tells the story of Meg Murry, a 13-year-old who has struggled to deal with the sudden and unexplained disappearance of her father, an astrophysicist, four years earlier.

But then her five-year-old brother, Charles Wallace, welcomes an eccentric stranger into the home, who introduces herself as Mrs Whatsit and mentions the tesseract, a form of space travel that their father had been experimenting with.

Before they know it, the two children – together with Calvin O’Keefe, a schoolmate of Meg’s – are tesseracted away by Mrs Whatsit, Mrs Who and Mrs Which (a trio of guardian angel figures) to search for the missing Alex Murry.

Parts of the film look sumptuous – the planet Uriel, for instance, seems to have been visualised via the artwork of Roger Dean and Chris Foss – but for too much of its 109 minutes, it plods rather than sparkles.

The three children are exceptionally well played by Storm Reid as Meg, Deric McCabe as Charles Wallace and Levi Miller as Calvin, but too often it feels as though Jennifer Lee and Jeff Stockwell’s screenplay acts like concrete shoes.

There are some funny moments with the three Mrs – particularly Reese Witherspoon’s Mrs Whatsit, but Oprah Winfrey’s Mrs Which is all too reminiscent of Glinda, the Good Witch of the North from The Wizard of Oz, a film that this seems desperate to emulate.

Nothing is unique, of course, but influenced by alll manner of things. But theres a scene here, involving a transformed Mrs Whatsit, that seems to have leapt straight out of the final segment of Fantasia 2000, where the green sprite brings life back to the world. Is this a deliberate case of a Disney film referencing a Disney film?

At the end, it manages to generate flickers of genuine emotion, but the fact that it ends up feeling like a morality tale – even though all the morals it espouses are laudable – is indicative of just how much it’s trapped in it’s own worthiness.

Still, itll doubtless upset Christian fundamentalists, as the books continue to do, even though L’Engle was very much trying to create a story that echoed her own liberal, Episcopalian faith.

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