You’d think that Disney had touched almost every fairytale or classic story there is to tell right? Well one of the few stories they had yet to truly put their own stamp on was “The Nutcracker”. The legendary ballet has seen countless other renditions from cartoons to stage shows and television specials. For Disney’s spin on the story they decided to attempt to turn the production into an epic fantasy expanding the scope of the story beyond the limits of the source material. A lot of times Disney hits a home run with their own unique take on a story, but with a respected work like “The Nutcracker” it’s a huge risk even for one of the world’s most successful studios. So, does Disney do justice to “The Nutcracker’s” legacy or does this new live action rendition fall flat? Let’s take a look. This is my review of “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms”.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
“The Nutcracker and the Four Realms” stars Mackenzie Foy as Clara Stahlbaum a young girl who, along with her siblings, receives a gift from her diseased mother the night before Christmas, in her case a locked metal egg-like contraption with no key. Clara is a smart young woman and an inventor who has a close bond with her godfather and fellow inventor Droseelmeyer (Morgan Freeman). Clara’s search for the key to her mother’s gift as well as her relationship with Droseelmeyer eventually lead her into a parallel world made up of four realms, the Lands of Sweets, Snowflakes, Flowers and Amusements. Clara meets a nutcracker named Philip (Jayden Fowora-Kight) and the Sugar Plum Fairy (Keira Knightley), the leader of the Land of Sweets, who reveal Clara’s mother was once royalty in the land and kept the four realms at peace but in her absence that peace has fallen apart with the leader of the Land of Amusements, Mother Ginger (Helen Mirren), spreading darkness across the Realms. As Clara learns the history of the Realms she discovers that the hidden key to her mother’s gift is even more important as it could provide access to a weapon that could be the ultimate advantage against Mother Ginger and her army.
So, I can’t lie this movie is a mess, but there are aspects worth praising. The visuals first and foremost are pretty neat with fun set designs and costumes and some creative backdrops even if we only get to see glimpses at best of some of the more inventive scenery. This is one of the few areas where this movie feels truly inspired. There’s at least some semblance of creative thought put into the world which feels just as magical and colorful as you’d expect from Disney even for a live action product. The problem is that “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms” doesn’t do nearly enough to take advantage of these great visuals and this expansive world showing only glimpses of some of the more colorful backdrops while keeping the story pretty confined to either the dark and dreary Land of Amusements or the castle set between all of the realms. But what we do see is at least delightful to look at while we have it.
I did appreciate some of the performances even if few of them really stood out. Keira Knightly is by far the best part of this movie when you look at the acting. Her turn as the Sugar Plum Fairy is absolutely delightful and charming as hell and she’s one of the few actors who can overpower the bland script with her own personality. Her inflections and vocal style and her mannerisms are clearly inspired and she feels like one of the few that are actually trying in this movie. Her fellow Realm leaders, played by Eugenio Derbez and Richard E. Grant, are also fun characterizations but we don’t get to see much of them on screen. The only other character that really stands out with the Sugar Plum Fairy is Mother Ginger and while Helen Mirren doesn’t turn in her best career performance at least she too feels like she’s trying. In a film filled with basic performances and forgettable versions of classic characters it’s worth mentioning that there are at least some great performers who give it their all and add some quality to this underwhelming take on a classic tale.
WHAT DIDN’T WORK
Pretty much everything. This is a massive miss for Disney in my opinion and one of dullest versions of “The Nutcracker” I’ve ever seen. There’s none of the studio’s trademark creativity or charm even if the style does kind of fit their whimsical and magical approach to modernized classics. The script is all over the place and pretty much every other acting performance other than the Realm leaders is as basic and uninspired as it gets. To their credit the likes of Mackenzie Foy, Jayden Fowora-Kight and Morgan Freeman due try to inject some life into their characters but they don’t do nearly enough and, again, the script doesn’t do them any favors. It’s all just so basic. The character motivations are either contrived or cliché, most of the actors seem barely interested in bringing anything new to the material and the direction from Lasse Hallstöm and Joe Johnston lacks conviction to what was clearly a much more inspired vision for this story.
Even though “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms” tries to put a creative spin on the traditional story in actuality it’s as cliché as it can be. The movie borrows from a long list of overused tropes including the subversive twist (which I saw coming from a mile away), the fractured family that learns a lesson by the end of the movie, and even adding a new element to Clara to make her feel more unique compared to past interpretations which feels more like a forced attempt at making this movie feel like something different when it reality there’s no real sincerity to this new take on the character. It’s just more of the same thing we’ve seen in countless other movies and re-imaginings with a fresh coat of rather bland paint. If you are unlucky enough to take a chance on this movie you’re not going to get anything new. It might look beautiful but it’s a hollow shell that tries to pass itself off as revolutionary when in reality it’s nothing of the sort. It’s forgettable, it’s bland and that’s the best I can say about this unfortunate misfire.
Worst of all this is supposed to be a Christmas movie and it contains pretty much no holiday spirit. This movie does take place during Christmas time but the holiday feels more like a minor story element that sets the plot in motion and nothing more. The writers did try to work in some holiday-themed sentiment but it all just falls flat and the entire concept of the holiday is such an afterthought that even the writers seems to forget that Christmas exists in their world. One of the most ridiculous oversights in this movie is when Clara arrives she does so in the Christmas Tree forest, yet the word “Christmas” is then shown to be a strange term to the leaders of the Realms only minutes later…so then how is that possible when they named an entire part of their world after the holiday? This is the kind of incoherence that litters this film and with that said if you’re heading to the theater with the hope of finding that little bit of early Christmas spirit I’m sad to say you won’t find much of it here.
“The Nutcracker and the Four Realms” isn’t the absolute worst film I’ve seen in 2018, but it’s probably one of the most forgettable. It’s just one big collection of clichés and overused story tropes that do no justice to the legacy of its source material. It’s not a good Christmas movie, it’s not a good fantasy movie and it’s certainly not up to snuff with any of Disney’s more imaginative past works. It does have some select highlights to offer including an imaginative world with neat visuals and a few fun characters, but for the most part it feels like a very phoned in, unfocused and strangely uninspired project overall that I think was a much bigger vision than the final product we got. “The Nutcracker” is a tough tale to interpret for any medium, especially since it’s such a classic and is so overused, but as someone whose seen many versions of the story myself I can safely say that, in my personal opinion, this is an uninteresting and tragically flawed take on the source material that is better left skipped in favor of superior efforts of the past.