Even the great and powerful O(prah) can’t save A Wrinkle in Time

Disney’s spectacular misfire jettisons genuine emotion into a cold, dark galaxy far, far away.

click to enlarge Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey, third from left) has hidden a new car under the rock of each of her colleagues, to make up for the terrible movie they've made. - Walt Disney Pictures
Walt Disney Pictures
Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey, third from left) has hidden a new car under the rock of each of her colleagues, to make up for the terrible movie they've made.

In 1939, a young girl from Kansas got swept up in a tornado and transported to another dimension where she had to work with fantastical manifestations of her own insecurities (courage, intelligence, empathy) in order to discover existential truths about both herself and the human experience.

Nearly 80 years later, the best that the wealthiest, most imaginative movie studio on Earth can muster is transporting a young girl angry at losing her father to the IT, a faceless pitch-black nebulous responsible for all evils in the galaxy, including teenage bulimia, asshole parents and bullies.

Along the way, the girl, Meg (a wonderfully vibrant Storm Reid), her annoyingly astute kid brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe), and a school friend named Calvin (Levi Miller) encounter three celestial beings — Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling) and Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey) — who bestow a boatload of platitudes on the three young travelers about love and inner-strength.

Sample quote: “It’s OK to fear the answers, but you can’t avoid them.”

Come on! I’m sure I saw that on a motivational poster when I was in grade school, only it was written in a thought bubble above a kitten’s head as it prepared to creep past a menacing dust bunny on the floor.

In order to find Meg’s father, Alex Murry (Chris Pine), the trio must practice yoga with Happy Medium (Zach Galifianakis, in the film’s lone bit of subversive casting) and contend with Red (Michael Pena), a mechanized mouthpiece for the IT.

Mr. Murry and his wife (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) are physicists who believe they have unlocked the ability to fold time and travel to other dimensions through a frequency-enabling device called the Tesseract, which allows father Alex to tessering himself to the farthest region of the galaxy, where he is captured by the IT.

Four years after Alex Murry disappeared after being laughed off-stage during a NASA presentation, Meg is angry and disenchanted. She’s relentlessly bullied at school by a mean girl named Veronica. Her principal blames Meg for refusing to accept that her dad just isn’t ever coming home. But Charles Wallace refuses to give up hope, which leads him to welcome Mrs. Whatsit into the family home on a dark and stormy night.

click to enlarge Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon) prepares to transform into a giant flying plant dragon. - Walt Disney Pictures
Walt Disney Pictures
Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon) prepares to transform into a giant flying plant dragon.

Made for $103 million, A Wrinkle in Time is Walt Disney Pictures’ bid to recapture the wonder and inspiration of its 1970’s heyday, when the studio took big risks on a slate of live-action, science-fiction-heavy films like Escape to Witch Mountain and The Black Hole.

Spoiler alert: They failed. In fact, someone better cancel Thanksgiving because this turkey is way overcooked.

How did this go so wrong?

For one, you’ve got the writer of Frozen and Wreck-It Ralph (Jennifer Lee) partnered with a guy (Jeff Stockwell) who wrote The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys and Bridge to Terabithia, trying desperately to cram the bulk of Madeleine L’Engle’s original novel, minus some glaring omissions, into a compact feature that’s not even two hours long.

Hell, even the Wikipedia synopsis for A Wrinkle in Time is more cohesive and entertaining.

And you’ve got the Oscar-nominated Ava DuVernay (Selma) desperately trying to use every single crayon color in the box to create a visual kaleidoscope capable of distracting educated people from the fact that this is a science-fiction adventure sorely lacking in science and utterly devoid of the kind of fantastic imagery that elevated recent time-travel fantasies like Interstellar.

The three primary destinations that Meg, Charles Wallace and Calvin tessering to are a lush planet where flowers speak “in colors,” where they take a flight on the back of Mrs. Whatsit after she transforms into a giant leaf dragon (I’m not kidding); the constellation Orion, where the Happy Medium lives in a bottomless cave filled with balance beams; and Camazotz, a dark planet consumed by the IT’s evil, which is represented by a never-ending beach filled with generic vacationers and an idyllic neighborhood straight out of The Stepford Wives.

In case it’s not obvious, the point that A Wrinkle in Time is trying to bludgeon home with brute force is that robotic conformity to a hive mindset is bad, mmm-kay?

Sadly, none of the destinations are particularly awe-inspiring, and the computer-generated scenery ends up looking like a patchwork quilt of James Cameron’s cutting-room-floor rejects from Avatar.

For reasons never explained, Oprah’s Mrs. Which appears as a giant for much of her screen time, towering over both the kids and the other Mrs. W’s, and for artistic reasons that should have been reconsidered, the great and powerful O’s eyebrows are represented as a constantly changing assortment of weird jewels.

Witherspoon is tasked with playing the ditzy deity, yet she forgets to pack the knowing naïveté that made her Elle Woods/Legally Blonde character so formidable. And poor Kaling is saddled with the worst dialogue, forced to proffer quotes from historical figures, which she punctuates by stating the country where they were born.

click to enlarge Chris Pine, trapped in a giant orange light box, dreams of the days when audiences were only upset about Khan's poorly kept secret. - Walt Disney Pictures
Walt Disney Pictures
Chris Pine, trapped in a giant orange light box, dreams of the days when audiences were only upset about Khan's poorly kept secret.

Ideas are introduced, and abandoned, like a red Solo cup at a fraternity kegger. Early on, Mrs. Whatsit announces to Meg and her mother that Charles Wallace possesses a brilliant intellect.  Later, Charles Wallace becomes a villain who enlists with the IT. I suspect that the young genius did this solely to locate his father, but A Wrinkle in Time refuses to offer the kind of necessary context to critical character decisions that typically allows an audience to enjoy an a-ha! moment of subplot satisfaction.

And Pine, as good as he was in Hell or High Water or even Wonder Woman, is relegated to a paper-thin representation of a Hallmark Card.

Sample quote: “I wanted to shake hands with the universe,” he tells Meg, “but I should have been holding yours.”


It’s hard to fault the A-list cast assembled. They do the best they can with what little they are given. And the film’s overarching themes of love, individuality and acceptance are admirable, if not original. No one says a negative word about Meg’s blended family. They’re too busy telling her to buck up.

What people should be talking about is how, in 2018, a slam-dunk slice of family-friendly fantasy went so spectacularly off-track.

For all its inspirational quotes and its well-intentioned social platform, carefully crafted to shine a light on contemporary issues of isolation, abandonment and such, A Wrinkle in Time lacks even a hint of ambition, a breath of bravery or a glimmer of sedition.

About The Author

John W. Allman

John W. Allman has spent more than 25 years as a professional journalist and writer, but he’s loved movies his entire life. Good movies, awful movies, movies that are so gloriously bad you can’t help but champion them. Since 2009, he has cultivated a review column and now a website dedicated to the genre films...
Scroll to read more Events & Film articles


Join Creative Loafing Tampa Bay Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.