Disney wasted no time getting to the holiday season. They barely left any time to take down the skeletons and pumpkins before releasing The Nutcracker and the Four Realms on November 2nd. Disney’s latest holiday family film takes a new spin on an old classic. Writer, Ashleigh Powell, draws from E.T.A. Hoffman’s story “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” and Marius Petipa’s ballet, “The Nutcracker” to develop her adaptation. Directors Lasse Hallstrom and Joe Johnston aimed to take that script and create a fantasy adventure out of one of the most beloved ballets of all time. The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is right in the Disney wheelhouse. Their empire is pretty much built on great fantasy stories. This story in particular already has an audience that is familiar with the source material; it seemed like a match made in heaven. The problem is, this fantasy/adventure tale lacked the fantasy/adventure part it was supposed to have.
All great fantasy stories have great and memorable characters. Memorable characters are a crucial part in that story being successful. They generally follow a typical path in regards to the hero. They are usually trying to defeat some evil after first finding something they need that will in turn help them find themselves or learn a valuable lesson. The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is no exception to this. Clara’s (Mackenzie Foy) late mother left her a precious egg that contains something Clara thinks she needs. In her effort to find the key she is led to a strange new world. It is in this world that Clara finds out that the key she is searching for not only opens her gift but also will help save all the people in it. As far as stories go, it’s pretty paint by numbers, plot twist and all. Which is why characters are so important. It’s never the journey you fall in love with it’s the characters. That crucial element is nowhere to be found in The Nutcracker.
Mackenzie Foy gives a rather bland performance that isn’t engaging at all. She doesn’t seem to be impressed at all by any of the things that she is seeing. Furthermore she lacks any real energy at all. If she doesn’t find any wonder in the world that she stumbles upon, then how is the audience supposed to? This problem doesn’t end with Foy; the rest of the cast is pretty unremarkable and forgettable as well. When Clara gets to this mysterious world she quickly comes upon Phillip (Jayden Fowora-Knight), the last remaining Nutcracker soldier. Phillip decides to help Clara on her journey and becomes her loyal friend. This is another generic element of the story that needs the performer to make it memorable and Fowora-Knight doesn’t do that. The performances don’t get much better even though the names get bigger. Keira Knightley as Sugar Plum was ambitious and she definitely went for it but it was more annoying than good. This character was interesting at times, especially when she was first introduced. She was a burst of much needed energy but that quickly turned sour mainly because of the obnoxious voice Knightley used for the character. They had the right idea with this character but the execution was poor. The same could be said for all the characters, none of them were bad ideas, they just didn’t come across in any meaningful way.
Another crucial part of a fantasy story is the fantasy element. There needs to be some sense of wonder and amazement. As an audience we should be seeing things that we would never see in the real world. Every good fantasy story has at least the one shot where the music swells and the camera pulls back to reveal the fantasy world in all its grandeur. That never happens in The Nutcracker. This doesn’t happen because this fantasy world is poorly developed and confusing. There is no real logic to how this world is set up and the most fantastical parts of the world (the land of sweets, snowflakes and flowers) we never really get to see. We spend most of our time in the woods or a castle that looks more like Saint Basil’s Cathedral than anything in a fantasy world. There are no fun or interesting creatures, just mice that can work together to make a larger mouse or egg shaped clowns that are more creepy than fantastical. We get glimpses of a fun and fantastical world but we never really get to see it, which is very disappointing.
The Nutcracker and the Four Realms has a lot of problems but it isn’t unbearable to sit through. There are some solid visual effects throughout and that can bring some fun. The costume design, which is another staple in Disney live action movies, is also pretty good. The messaging is also pretty good. This is a family movie that is directed at kids and on that level it works better. It’s still not as fun as it could be but kids could have some fun with it. The short runtime helps the experience and even though the set pieces aren’t spectacular the movie’s length makes up for it. As far as fantasy/adventure movies, or even basic narrative storytelling goes, The Nutcracker will be a disappointment. If you are looking for a movie to bring on the holiday season you might be better off waiting for next week when The Grinch releases.
1 1/2 out of 5 stars
Director: Lasse Hallstrom & Joe Johnston Writer: Ashleigh Powell Starring: Mackenzie Foy, Keira Knightley, Morgan Freeman, Jayden Fowora-Knight & Helen Mirren Release Date: November 2nd Rated: PG Runtime: 1 hour and 39 minutes