★★

Director Ava DuVernay (Selma) has teamed up with writers Jennifer Lee (Frozen) and Jeff Stockwell (Children of the Machine) to bring us a visually stunning, albeit narratively unsound, adaptation of the 1962 Newbery Medal-winning novel A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle.

Meg (Storm Reid) and her brother Charles (Deric McCabe) are outcasts at their school. Seen as odd by both their fellow students and even their teachers, they have not been able to fit in since the disappearance of their scientist father (Chris Pine) four years prior. Suddenly, three unusual women appear and tell them that their father is alive, then convince Meg, Charles, and their new friend Calvin (Levi Miller) that they must go on a quest through time and space in order to save him. They encounter strange worlds and beings along the way, climaxing in an attempt to rescue their dad from a malevolent presence known as the It.

While all this sounds like an interesting journey in which the children learn that freedom is more important than conformity, that it’s possible to overcome one’s weaknesses and turn them into strengths, and that love is the ultimate power in the universe, these messages are mired in a script that seems incredibly stunted—or perhaps it’s more apt to say that it’s folded in upon itself.

The story starts a little slowly, and given how truncated the later scenes are, the setup feels overlong. However, once the tale unfolds each moment seems rushed—as though there wasn’t enough time to devote to the development of the plot. Instead, the characters frequently resort to telling us things rather than showing us, then moving on. The meat of the film is so thin that the closure at the end seems drawn out by comparison.

Aside from the script, everything else is magnificent. The songs and score fit perfectly with the action, and the cinematography and special effects are beyond stunning. The actors and the excellent direction they are given are the truest joys of the film. Each actor is perfectly cast and fills his or her role as well as the script allows. DuVernay knows how to get the most from her performers. Mindy Kaling, Oprah Winfrey, and Reese Witherspoon epitomize their characters, providing great examples of strong female leads. Zach Galifianakis is delightful as the Happy Medium. But the most memorable performance in the film is from the youngest thespian. At only nine years old, Deric McCabe stands out during every moment he is onscreen.

It is unfortunate that the writers were unable to adapt such groundbreaking source material into a well-paced script. Perhaps at 109 minutes, the time limitations constrained their ability to tell the story in a more organic manner; the movie likely would have benefited from adding another 30 or even 45 more minutes to its runtime. As it stands, though, A Wrinkle in Time is little more than an annoying crease.