Disney re-visits their staple of public domain tales with another visit with “The Nutcracker,” a ritual that’s annual for most movie studios. No matter what year it is, some studio thinks they can offer an artistic, original, or hip take on “The Nutcracker,” and every year it’s terrible. Even with Disney injecting the classic ballet with the spectacle of Robert Zemeckis, the eccentricity/whimsy of Tim Burton, and a vague cribbing from 1939’s “The Wizard of Oz” (bordering on plagiarism), “The Nutcracker and The Four Realms” is a hollow effort to turn the musical composition in to a hit holiday movie. And perhaps a hit holiday movie franchise. You know they’ve focus grouped it and are planning parts two to seven, right now.
Still reeling from the loss of their mother, Clara, and her brother and sister struggle to find a direction in their life, including her father, who is trying to continue the Christmas festivities. When Clara and her family go to Drosselmeyer’s mansion for a Christmas Celebration, Clara is given a mysterious metal egg left to her by her late mother that also has a magical key to open it with. While trying to figure out the egg, Clara drifts in to a portal to another world, known as The Four Realms. There she learns her mother once ruled the kingdom as the queen, and joined by the Sugar Plum Fairy, the Snow Realm King, and the Flower Realm King, she learns about her mother’s legacy. Meanwhile, she enters in to a battle with Mother Ginger, hoping to defeat her and the rodent army, and retrieve the key, which will revive the toy army, giving Sugar Plum Fairy a chance to fight back.
“The Nutcracker and the Four Realms” (or “Alice in Nutcracker Land”) garners two directors and feels like three movies struggling to break free. One of them is a Christmas movie about a cloistered young girl learning about her mother’s legacy, the second one is the same vein but told through a more artistic function of dance, performance art, and exploration. The third is a clumsy fantasy epic that feels almost like a verbatim cribbing of the Disney “Alice in Wonderland” live action movie, right down to Alice suiting up with the land’s army, and battling the villain with CGI creatures. While the film isn’t awful, it’s so poorly cobbled together from too many cooks in the kitchen and some crafty demographic tailoring.
Much of what happens is all so disjointed and jumbled, that it never feels like one big cohesive epic. The attempted ideas introduced about grief, longing for a lost one, and learning how to find joy in one’s lasting legacy, are all lost in a slew of bland characters. And no matter how much they paint Keira Knightley, her role here is forgettable. Just about everyone here is forgettable save for MacKenzie Foy, whose performance is spirited, charming, and often heartfelt. She truly feels like a girl who is in desperate need of her mother after losing her, it’s just a shame her journey is treated so bizarrely. From her introduction to the macguffins of the egg and the key, to her meeting with the enigmatic Drosselmeyer, it’s all so vanilla.
Even when Clara drifts from Drosselmeyer’s mansion in to the magical Four Realms, it is greeted with such a cursory attitude. As she approaches the Four Realms and ascends in to the magical land she looks so much more like someone who is walking in to a fancy wardrobe. “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms” has very little chance to offer something of substance or that we haven’t already seen before, but it has the chance to at least offer some true emotion behind the whole journey. Disney could have aimed for something in the vein of “Pan’s Labyrinth” but instead ride on a dull, hollow experience filled with CGI and silly characters we’re supposed to root for. Even Jayden Fowora-Knight who plays the titular Nutcracker gets lost in the myriad eccentric heroes and villains, rather than standing out as the hero who aides Clara in saving his world.
And I doubt many people will remember Morgan Freeman or Helen Mirren appeared in this, in a few years. In any case, at least Tchaikovsky’s music is still incredibly beautiful, and there is a neat “Fantasia” visual reference. It’s just there is nothing really interesting or substantial that occurs throughout its entire (merciful) ninety minute run time; I doubt most of the target audience will be able to stay awake past the first half hour.