Growing up a lot of people would stress about a film becoming “Disney-fied.” A term that was used when people feared that a story they loved would become oversimplified and painted in light without consequences. This tone of contentment begins to wear thin over a period of time, but Ava DuVernay’s “A Wrinkle in Time” is a film that absorbs that style of storytelling while providing an imaginative journey of pure spectacle that only a studio like Disney could offer. The story, for those unfamiliar with Madeleine L. ‘Engle’s 1962 classic, focuses on a young thirteen year old girl named Meg (Storm Reid) whose younger brother, Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe), on the fourth year anniversary of her father’s disappearance introduces her to three magical women who are attempting to reconnect her family together by travelling through space and time to find her father.
This time odyssey of a story leads to visualization of mystical landscapes that words on a page cannot equal. Ava DuVernay has some clear inspirations from anime-styled filmmakers like that of Hayao Miyazaki. The pure wizardry of colors and digital frameworks leads to a style of cinematography that has the essence of a Miyazaki film but the production of a Disney movie. It's a blend of escapism that can be unmatched at times, despite the storytelling feeling incredibly vapid at times regarding emotionality.
“A Wrinkle in Time” harkens back to movies like “Dunkirk” and “Princess Mononoke” in which the visuality of the film becomes the subject of emotionality instead of the storytelling itself becoming the focus of resonation. “A Wrinkle in Time” dissects the themes of love conquering all and unity being stronger than separation. However, the screenplay only gives that away on a superficial level in which you notice the themes, but you don’t feel their emotional impact. Many moments of the film’s dialogue feel forced and the opposite of escapism in which the actors fail to give away any symbol of believability.
This lack of believability begins with Storm Reid who struggles to convey the emotional torment that infects her character. Instead, she feels like she’s reading lines off of a script which creates a barrier of resonation and authenticity. The same could be said for most of the cast on this film in which no one feels as if they have evolved into the magical land of fictionality that we find ourselves in, instead they seem to blend into the foreground as actors and not characters. Oprah feels like a volumed up version of herself in which she becomes an influential leader of the light due to her ability to manifest optimism in the darkest of shadows. But the cinema is supposed to be a place of complete escapism, not a halfway illusion.
This hallway illusion has been defended by some in the light of Ava’s homaged genius Hayao Miyazaki. He is a filmmaker that creates a vast amount of resonating with little dialogue to develop a corroboration of emotion, but the reason this works is both the visual beauty and the musical rhythms backing it. Imagine the train scene from “Spirited Away” without Joe Hisaishi’s enchanting piano keys providing that extra punch of emotion. Imagine the revelation of Marnie from “When Marnie was There” without Takatsugu Muramatsu’s perfected notes from the flute. Imagine “Princess Mononoke” without the mythical soundtrack provided by Joe Hisaishi. Do these films still have the same emotional impact without them? I don’t think so, and I think that’s why you see this vapid of emotion in “A Wrinkle in Time.
The music is constructed by Ramin Djawadi whose brilliance can be showcased in HBO’s ‘Game of Thrones” and “Westworld,” not to mention the underrated score of “Iron Man.” There is a lot of genius to be found, but he falls incredibly short in “A Wrinkle in Time” which is where this film begins to lose all of its steam. Like a beautifully designed train riding on sketchy train tracks in which the music never provides that extra punch needed to allow for the screenplay to fall into the distance. Unlike Miyazaki and Nolan’s filmography, Ava is unable to provide that extra oomph to push “A Wrinkle in Time” from a beautiful sloppy joe of a film to something spectacularly subtle.
The story is not given near enough time to breathe and not given near enough majestic fictionality to become something extraordinary. But the storytelling provides some useful messages for children and though no one feels as if they’re bringing a character to life, they don’t necessarily offer awful performances either. The performances are satisfactory, nothing more and nothing less. The same could be said for the story in which nothing feels entirely out of place, but nothing feels memorably effective either.
It’s a story that plays artificially almost; it follows the beats that we’ve seen before and never expands upon them or adapts them. It’s visual acuity lacking emotional fortitude from either music, if comparing this film to Miyazaki’s brilliance, or resonating characters due to a lack of pacing or depth. Whichever it is, the bottom line is that something is missing from this imaginative odyssey. The message is progressive and beneficial to children, the acting is harmless but unmemorable, and the visuality is merely spellbinding. But the idea of comparing this film to that of Miyazaki's brilliance is sensical but showcases more of the film's downfalls instead of its successes. It’s “Disney-fied” for sure, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing anymore, is it?