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‘Wrinkle in Time’ is just right for a middle schooler

This big-budget adaptation of the children’s sci-fi classic “A Wrinkle in Time” is moving, didactic, imaginative, and bloated, all at the same time.

At its core is the story of a middle-school girl who must make peace with herself and her absent father. It’s a task that requires outer space travel and inner space musings, and thanks to a $100 million budget, the movie has the resources to do just that.

Bizarre planetary settings and oddball otherworldly creatures predominate. So much so that, at times, these CGI tricks threaten to dwarf the kids at the heart of this story. But in the end, the movie finds its happy medium. (By the way, Happy Medium is the name of one of the characters the children meet on their perilous journey.)

Our young heroine Meg is the bright, much-loved daughter of two NASA scientists. But when her father mysteriously goes missing during a quest to better understand the universe, through a wrinkle in time, Meg is understandably distraught. Her mother and her younger brother refuse to give up hope, but four long years later, and with still no sign of her dad, she has become despondent — she hates school, her social life, even herself.

“You can’t keep using your father’s disappearance as an excuse to act out, Meg.”

“He’s not coming back, is he?”

“Don’t give up hope.”

“You must really miss him.”

“More than anything in the universe.”

“Then how about we go and find him?”

That last voice is Mrs. Whatsit, played by Reese Witherspoon, one of three celestial beings who volunteer to help Meg and her younger brother and a friend journey through the universe in search of her father. Mrs. Whatsit is joined by Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling) and Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey).

“Your father has accomplished something extraordinary, also dangerous … He’s trapped by a darkness that’s actively spreading throughout the universe. And the only one who can stop it is you.

“Be a warrior.”

“I’ll try.”

This is clearly a kids-empowerment story dolled up in the guise of a sci-fi adventure. The adventure part of the equation lets the kids visit a rather random collection of fantasy planets — some bright and magical, some dark and threatening. It’s on these various planets that Meg learns things about herself, things that empower her bit by bit.

Meg starts off her journey really down on herself. She’s internalized all the mean-girl things said about her (she even hates her hair). Her empowerment comes in bite-size bromides that might make an adult roll his eyes but seem just right for a middle-schooler: you’re so smart; you don’t know how great you are; you can do this, you’re just choosing not to; you’ve got great hair!

Learning to trust herself and believe in herself no matter the odds gives Meg the courage to make herself and her family whole again. Love is the real wrinkle in the time/space continuum.

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