Film Review – The Nutcracker and The Four Realms
The Nutcracker and The Four Realms
How to create a fairly generic preteen holiday fantasy: Start with a base of a cost effective public domain property, slather in copious amounts of CGI, pepper using the money you saved on originality to hire several talented actors who should know better, stir with infrequent but recognizable musical cues from the source material to give the audience a dose of unearned holiday warmth, dress with elaborately adorned costumes, cook for 90 minutes, and generously market to taste. And this is how the Disney machine can crank out another light fantasy movie like The Nutcracker and The Four Realms.
This is from the same recent playbook as those Huntsman movies that turned Snow White into a badass and Disney’s own Malificient which wasn’t a half bad idea but was executed with middling results. In the case of this Nutcracker, it is a gentle version of this type of story and squarely aimed at younger girls. But this is still the same notion of trading on an IP that everyone is familiar with by making it “epic” with computer graphics that ends up both hollow and dull.
Clara as played by Mackenzie Foy takes her cue from the ballet. One of 3 children to their widower father (Matthew Macfadyen of British TV and Movie fame), just like the original she attends a ball hosted by the mysterious Drosselmeyer (Morgan Freeman in twinkly eyed God mode). He has set up a treasure hunt for the children during the party. Clara goes in pursuit of her prize which is a magical key to open a jeweled egg left to her by her departed mother. However, while chasing down the key she goes through a ‘The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe‘ style doorway which leads to the titular 4 Realms. There she meets The Nutcracker (newcomer Jayden Fowora-Knight) who is frozen in place Tin Man style until she wakes him. He helps her on her quest to retrieve her key from the Mouse King and the imposing Mother Ginger (Helen Mirren). Along the way they meet up with Keira Knightley as the Sugar Plum Fairy and her compatriots. They want the key from Mother Ginger as well to help unlock a secret to get control of their land once again.
Likely you can tell from that rundown that this story cribs a lot from other well-known tales. Walking from a mansion through to another magical realm is very Narnia. Mother Ginger is a combination of the Wicked Witch of the West and The Wizard from Oz. In fact, the rats acting as her minions are very Flying Monkeyish and Clara’s discovery of colorful characters on her journey is definitely a Dorothy riff. Also, the look of the movie is dripping with that uncanny valley of CGI that later Robert Zemeckis movies have. Think Jim Carrey‘s A Christmas Carol or Tom Hank‘s The Polar Express (both also Christmas movies).
Co-Director Lasse Hallstrom here is a long way from his critical darling days of My Life as a Dog and Chocolat. Everyone needs to do work that pays and with Disney involved I’m guessing this did. It’s not that the movie is bad, just uninspired. The sweeping tracking shots look more like a video game landscape than anything that has weight. The costumes are likely the standout element. This is the kind of showy attire that sometimes gets remembered come Oscar time. But the blatant green screen they are shot against is entirely unconvincing.
Girls in grade school may find something here in the fashions and escapism. Most kids of a certain age regularly watch movies that are of questionable merit. But those same movies tend to be the ones that they look back on when they are older shaking their heads that they were that excited about it. In fact, it’s likely a few years from now that it will be tough to remember this movie came out. Again, think of that 3D Christmas Carol. It’s tough to remember most of what happened in the that movie, isn’t it? It’s good to have an adventure featuring a young woman, but both she and the audience deserve something less rote.