School life sucks for teenager Meg Murry (Storm Reid). It’s bad enough that she gets ridiculed for being odd and socially outcast ’cause her daddy mysteriously vanished four years ago, but her adopted six-year-brother (who looks–and is–ten-years-old) Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe), talks like a grown-up and speaks out against injustice. Y’see, both parents are NASA scientists, mocked for their work on universe traveling with just your mind and certain frequencies (aka: using a ‘tesseract’). But while father Alex (Chris Pine) cracked the frequency and disappeared to who-knows-where, mother Kate (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) holds out hope that one day he’ll return.
But everything changes one day when a goofy and sarcastic astral-traveler named Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon) shows up and teleports Meg, Charles Wallace, and Meg’s school friend, Calvin (Levi Miller) to an Avatar-like planet, along with fellow astral-travelers, Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling) who only speaks in other people’s quotes, and their leader, the often-times skyscraper tall, Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey). There, they contact the rather UNhappy Happy Medium (Zach Galifianakis) who tells Meg that her dad is trapped on the ever-expanding evil planet of Camazotz, home of the dreaded “It” (no, not the clown, but that would have been awesome!)
Since only the kids can go to Camazotz, they are “tessered” there and are greeted by the friendly Mr. Red (Michael Pena) who woos Charles W. away and, quite easily, turning him into a sinister little puppet of the It; think an evil Young Sheldon. Using Mrs. Whatsit’s magical glasses, Meg locates her father, but Charles W. isn’t going to let anyone leave, bwahahahahaha! Will Sauron… I mean, the “It” win? Will Meg use her love to free Charles W. of its evil grip? Will Calvin be more than just a cardboard cutout character that babbles on and on how much he thinks Meg is a genius? Gee, I guess so.
One thing is for sure, whimsical, delightful, and charming, this movie is not. Screen-writer Jennifer Lee, who wrote the brilliant Wreck-it Ralph, decided to adapted L’Engle’s fantastical world into a movie about deep messages, self-empowering issues, conquering fears, and psychological journeys of self. . .just what you want in a kids movie, right?! Lee was SO busy with these adult themes, that she forgot that children were supposed to be the target audience. The hokey dialogue is overwhelmingly trite and laced with nonsensical adult jargon that I found hard to believe that any kid would be paying attention to.
At least the flashy CGI eye-candy visuals were nice looking, but not enough to stop director Ava DuVernay from making some very odd camera choices. Why must every shot have a CLOSE-UP in it? I mean literally, every shot! It’s unnatural and annoying after 15 minutes of this! I don’t want see everyone’s face up close. Oy! The travelers (Kahling and Witherspoon) are fun, and Chris Pine (for the little time he had) was great, but the leads needed help. Reid’s character of Meg was brooding, flat, and uninspired, with only occasional glimpses of emotion, while Miller barely registered on the acting Richter scale. McCabe, on the other hand, showed real promise as he nearly crossed the line into silly as the possessed little brother.