Madeleine L’Engle’s 1962 novel is a sprawling fantasy, encouraging young readers to use their imaginations and embrace individualism. Trying to squeeze the whole book into just under two hours of gaudy CGI results in an experience not dissimilar from Spielberg’s Ready Player One, wherein the whole thing looks and feels more like a video-game clip than a movie.
Director Ava DuVernay goes wholeheartedly for the kids audience, keeping the focus largely on young heroine Meg (Storm Reid) and her quest for self-worth as she searches the universe for her missing physicist father (Chris Pine), aided by young-crush Calvin, and her genius brother, Charles. Helping the kids are three ancient beings, Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon), Who (Mindy Kaling) and towering above them all (literally), Which (played by Oprah Winfrey and some enormous eyebrows).
From the expositional speechifying to the underwhelming CGI, this is an earnest muddle of a movie, shifting tone almost as often as Oprah changes eyebrows. There are engaging moments along the way, as DuVernay fleshes out Meg’s insecurities, and it’s great to see a multicultural cast, but like the CGI-heavy Alice In Wonderland movies, the novel’s appeal to the imagination is undermined by a kaleidoscope of pixelated planet-hopping pandemonium.
As an undemanding, cheery children’s movie it entertains, and the acting is fine all-round, but fans of the book risk disappointment on a grand scale.