Story by Grant Dillard, Staff writer
2018 has been a relatively good year for Disney, but that’s mainly due to the films based on other properties that the company owns. “Black Panther,” “Avengers: Infinity War,” “Incredibles 2,” and “Ant-Man and the Wasp” have brought in huge box-office results and favorable reviews from critics. This is important to bring up because earlier this year with “A Wrinkle in Time” and now with “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms,” it seems Disney is putting more effort into its other properties, rather than its original films these days.
Loosely based on the short story, “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King,” the film focuses on Clara Stahlbaum, a young girl who recently lost her mother. On Christmas Eve, she’s given the last gift from her mother, a locked egg shaped box. Wanting to find a way to unlock the box, Clara ends finds herself in a parallel world. There she meets a young soldier named Captain Phillip Hoffman. Together they hunt for the box’s key, which will help protect the Four Realms and the real world.
It’s important to know that despite having “The Nutcracker” in the title, this film isn’t exactly an adaptation of the original ballet, instead is more of an original story, with familiar characters and elements of the original “Nutcracker” thrown in here and there. This may be disappointing for those looking for a straight adaptation of the ballet. Even the classic musical score from the original “Nutcracker Suite” is largely absent, only popping up every once in a while to remind moviegoers that they’re watching a “Nutcracker” movie.
The biggest setback the film has is with its narrative. The film clearly wants to have an epic story and establish a huge and lavish fantasy world, much like Middle Earth from “The Lord of the Rings.” The problem is that the story feels so rushed and convoluted that it becomes uninteresting. Also, the world of the Four Realms, while designed nicely, isn’t exactly a world worth getting invested in. The film tries to establish a lore and backstory to the Four Realms, but it becomes a lot of information to take in all at once. It’s unlikely kids will be interested in the world’s backstory, or even remember everything by the time they leave the theater.
One good thing the film has going for it is that Stahlbaum makes for a good lead character; but that’s mainly due to Mackenzie Foy’s performance. Foy, better known as Renesme from “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part II” and Murph from “Interstellar” perfectly conveys the feelings that a girl would have while experiencing such strange events; whether it’d be wide-eyed curiosity or fear of potential danger. The Nutcracker himself, despite not standing out as much as Stahlbaum, makes a good companion for the adventure; although the fact that the title character doesn’t leave a big impression is problematic. Still, Jayden Fowora-Knight and Foy are sure to have bright futures ahead of them as actors, as their performances here feel more mature compared to the actual adult actors.
The adult actors don’t exactly contribute much to the film. Morgan Freeman co-stars as Clara’s godfather, Drosselmeyer, with only about five minutes of screentime. Despite his character’s only purpose being to send Stahlbaum on her journey, Freeman does decent enough work. Helen Mirren also stars as Mother Ginger, the ruler of the Fourth Realm who doesn’t come into play until much later in the film. Mirren isn’t bad in the role, but doesn’t exactly add anything special.
Worst of all has to be Keira Knightley as the Sugar Plum Fairy. Most baffling is a scene showing the Fairy’s reaction to a handful of giant toy soldiers coming to life; indicating she has a romantic fetish towards them. On the plus side, however, Knightley’s performance is incredibly entertaining on a “so bad it’s hilarious” level.
To perfectly sum up “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms” is to think of a painting in an art museum. It may be gorgeous and nice to look at, but it’s also flat and without much depth. The film may be a visual marvel, but its lack of a cohesive storyline and compelling characters makes the film a textbook case of style over substance. This is one “Nutcracker” tale that audiences can definitely skip.
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