The Nutcracker and the Four Realms Review

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms Review

PG: Some mild peril

Disney

1 Hr and 39 Minutes

Dir: Lasse Hallström, Joe Johnston | Writer: Ashleigh Powell

Cast: Keira Knightley, Mackenzie Foy, Eugenio Derbez, Matthew Macfadyen, Richard E. Grant, Misty Copeland, Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman, Jack Whitehall

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All Clara wants is a key - a one-of-a-kind key that will unlock a box that holds a priceless gift from her late mother. A golden thread, presented to her at godfather Drosselmeyer's annual holiday party, leads her to the coveted key - which promptly disappears into a strange and mysterious parallel world. It's there that Clara encounters a soldier named Phillip, a gang of mice and the regents who preside over three Realms: Land of Snowflakes, Land of Flowers, and Land of Sweets. Clara and Phillip must brave the ominous Fourth Realm, home to the tyrant Mother Ginger, to retrieve Clara's key and hopefully return harmony to the unstable world.

When it comes to these live action Disney movies, one must appreciate the amount of effort put into their production design. All of the scenery and set pieces are magnificent. It makes you believe that you are in the “Nutcracker” world. Unlike other Disney live action films, such as “Alice in Wonderland” and “A Wrinkle in Time”, this film has colorful, vibrant, and beautiful visuals throughout. Each realm that Clara travels to is distinctly detailed and gorgeous. A large part of me wishes that we spent more time exploring each realm rather than the task at hand because those lands are fun to gawk at.

Don’t even get me started on the costumes.

The wardrobe is incredible. This is what costume design is all about. If there is anything that is fully developed in this film it’s the production design and the costume design. All of the effort was put into wardrobe and makeup. All of the citizens in each realm look so distinctively unique as their clothing associates to the realm they reside in and you can tell by their color scheme. In the land of sweets, people dress in purple. In the land of snowflakes, people dress in blue and have ice particles on their body. In the land of flowers, people dress in green and have flower buds on their clothing. The production design and the VFX team did their thing when bringing these worlds to life. From time to time, there are moments where the CGI is superb, effective, and they incorporate some clever sequences.

As if “A Wrinkle in Time” wasn’t enough this year, Disney’s live action division is back with a vengeance. I give it this: at least it’s not “A Wrinkle in Time” which… wasn’t good...at all. For a film entitled “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms” it is very traditionally Disney. I say that because the story feels as if it follows the basic Disney guidebook of storytelling.

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Every aspect of the narrative is filled with tropes that are painfully devoid of personality or identity, even the lead played by Mackenzie Foy whom you might know as Renesmee Cullen from “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2.” Mackenzie Foy does a fantastic job carrying the film on her own and has enough energy and charisma, but her character Clara is composed of recycled attributes from many other Disney movies.

Seriously, Clara is a teenage girl who:

  • Has a deceased mother

  • Is curious about new things

  • Is smarter than everyone in the room that she’s often referred to as:

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  • Holds the balance to peace in the land

  • And to top it off, IS A PRINCESS

Because of Clara being a hodgepodge of other Disney characters that you swear was picked out of a hat, not only are you unable to root for her as a character, but it also feels like you’re just following a caricature. And it doesn’t just stop at Clara, but it also applies to the entire film for it hits all of the narrative beats of every Disney movie ever made.

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The story is simple: A girl who has family problems goes on a fantastical adventure to this new world that her mother used to rule and has to retrieve a key to stop a war. It may sound slightly different from other Disney movies, but the way it’s executed is so by-the-numbers and reminiscent of those films.

I can list each story element and match them with a Disney movie it reminds me of:

  • The fantastical world that is discovered through a corridor -  “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”

  • Being the chosen one to fight a ruler in red in a war - “Alice in Wonderland”

  • The lead character longing for her mother and is disconnected from her father because of it - “Beauty and the Beast (2017)”

You see what I’m saying? We’ve seen this kind of narrative in an abundant amount of Disney movies and the one it’s so closely associated to is Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland”. The only difference is that there’s color in this film. This is supposed to be a movie based on “The Nutcracker” and instead you have what feels like an “Alice” clone.

As far as the updated Disney guidebook goes, this follows the 4th edition that started with “Wreck-It Ralph” where it must be standard to incorporate a surprise antagonist. As much as that’s bothersome and has been done to death, I will admit that it’s effective. The idea of a reversed antagonist wasn’t on my mind so once that surprise villain was revealed, you ended up going:

Shoot, even some of the cast is unrecognizable because they barely have any screen time. You don’t get much Helen Mirren or Morgan Freeman, who are recognizable, but Richard E. Grant is in this and so is Eugenio Derbez and I didn’t even notice them. I would’ve if they were present more. What you have here instead is Keira Knightley, who honestly just feels so miscasted. I swear, if Knightley isn’t attached to films that aren’t period pieces, she’s out there actively looking for projects where extravagant costumes are involved. Throughout her performance as Sugar Plum Fairy, ruler of the land of sweets realm you assume that Knightley swallowed a chipmunk, for she speaks in an awkwardly high-pitched voice. It feels as if this role was meant for Michelle WIlliams, but she already paid her Disney dues in 2013 with “Oz The Great and Powerful”. At a certain point, Knightley’s just having a lot of fun in the role and chews up each bit of scenery that she can.

As much as I praised the production design and set pieces, holy heck you can tell that they filmed damn near everything on a green screen due to poor camera angle choices.

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During a season where every film a critic watches is over two hours long, “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms” is extremely short and moves at a fast pace. While I personally view this as a breath of fresh air, this film would’ve actually prospered from a longer running time. They could’ve indulged in a few more minutes for the audiences to explore the realms and develop a completely different narrative.

THE FILM IS CALLED “THE NUTCRACKER AND THE FOUR REALMS” AND YOU BARELY SEE ANY OF THE FOUR REALMS! They aren’t even realms, just neighborhoods in a borough that are all within a 30-minute walking distance of each other. There are shots where you see all four realms at once and it feels like such a lazy move from the production department.

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I don't know if this is a compliment or a complaint, but this movie is creepy and, at times, frightening. If some aspects of a children’s movie can scare me as an adult, it will piss the pants off kids. I’m not joking when I say that some of the imagery is the stuff of nightmares. There are freaky clowns who jump inside of each other’s stomachs and a giant rat monster that is composed of hundreds of rats. Yeah, there is so much nightmare fuel that might frighten kids, but KUDOS FOR THAT! Every family film nowadays plays it safe. For a studio like Disney to take liberties and deliver terrifying visuals... I tip my hat off to you.

I just kept hearing the words “A FAAAAAMILY PICTURE” echoed in my head during some shots.

If I may be honest, I don’t know a single thing about “The Nutcracker”, like... at all. I  have no knowledge of the story or any of the aspects of the characters that you see in the plays outside of the iconic songs you hear during the holidays. I’m not saying I went into “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms” expecting it to be my introduction to this very special holiday story, but I kind of did. While it failed to do that, I must admit that, not only are some elements present, but the most notable scene that stood out is the ballet sequence that occurs. Not only do they play with the scenery and the scale of the production, but it has some theatricality that is mesmerizing. Call me Owen WIlson because that ballet scene made me go:

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While the production design is magnificent and prospers from dazzling visuals, “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms” is boggled down by tiresome tropes that have been done countless times in many other Disney fantasy films.

Rating: 2/5 | 47%

2 stars

Super Scene: Four Realms Dance

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