After turning heads with her rousing and emotional Selma, director Ava DuVernay has returned with something different – A Wrinkle in Time, a big budget blockbuster with plenty of star power and huge expectations. Based on the 1962 Madeleine L’Engle novel of the same name, this adventure fantasy is Disney’s second course (following the critical and financial behemoth Black Panther) before the main course of Avengers: Infinity War. And although DuVernay’s latest is a spectacle for the eyes and ears, this Wrinkle may have too many wrinkles.

This film adaptation was co-written by Jennifer Lee (Frozen, Wreck-It Ralph, Zootopia) and Jeff Stockwell (Bridge to Terabithia) and for all intents and purposes it’s a children’s story. Because of that this entry will likely miss the mark for adults, whereas children may become consumed by it. It preaches life lessons which should resonate with all viewers but there is an element or two missing which could help propel it to greater, more memorable levels. Because of that, its 109-minute running time feels much longer as there are more lulls than I’m willing to accept. Still, this is ambitious filmmaking and much credit goes out to DuVernay for swinging for the fences.

Starring Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Chris Pine, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Zach Galifianakis, André Holland and Michael Peña, Wrinkle focuses on troubled middle-schooler Meg Murry (a fantastic Storm Reid) who’s experiencing the usual preteen growing pains. But Meg is in a more difficult place – her ambitious scientist father Alex (Pine) has disappeared, leaving behind Meg; her baby brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe); and her mother Kate (Mbatha-Raw). Meg has difficulty coping, teetering on the edge of a breakdown since Alex’s been gone for 4 years (yet she clings to the scant chance of a miraculous return). At this point Meg is combative, she’s teased at school and she’s effectively ignored her academics. No one, including Meg’s mother and principal (Holland), can figure her out and things may become worse.

But one day three otherworldly entities appear – Mrs. Which (Winfrey), Mrs. Who (Kaling) and Mrs. Whatsit (Witherspoon). They inform Meg her father hasn’t left but is lost somewhere in the universe (Alex and Kate, also a scientist, have been working on a hypothesis involving traveling to other worlds and dimensions without spaceships) and needs to be saved. Just as quickly as all the characters are introduced, Which, Who and Whatsit transport Meg, Charles Wallace and overall nice kid classmate Calvin (Levi Miller) to never-before-explored worlds in an effort to find Alex. At the same time, the Missus(es) implore Meg to use her potential to help the light win out over a terrible evil known as the IT.

Of course, the light versus dark/good versus evil motif is as old as time and obviously draws cinematically from the likes of Star Wars, The Matrix and other numerous film franchises. And the IT is too much of a reminder of IT, the horror film which was just in theaters last September. So even though the book (and its story) is well over 56 years old today’s audiences will expect Wrinkle to stand out amongst features which boast similar themes.

That’s where the potholes show up, sometimes with prevalence. Wrinkle is a sci-fi fantasy coming of age film that preaches more than it wows. When there are wows it’s due to the sumptuous visuals (Tobias Schliessler served as cinematographer). Wrinkle’s messages are clearly stated but its approach wasn’t as mind blowing as the images. DuVernay did well to avoid any camp (despite Galifiankis’s ‘best’ efforts), but the tone seemed too serious for a children’s film, especially since much of the humor fell flat.

The best way to view A Wrinkle in Time is from a child’s point of view. Its impact is best felt from that perspective because ultimately this won’t keep an adult’s attention. It’s still a gem because it looks beautiful, but it’s not an emotional juggernaut compared to its source material. But if nothing else, I applaud the diversity both in front of and behind the camera. This is a declaration of overdue change and is a hopeful sign of a new norm.

2.5 stars out of 5

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