With The Nutcracker and The Four Realms, Disney is continuing with its wave of live-action adaptations by finally moving away from re-sourcing its animated content to focus on a classic Christmas tale (although technically this one was a segment in Fantasia). Can they continue the trend of success seen in The Jungle Book and Beauty in the Beast or will this be another Cinderella?
Synopsis: All Clara wants is a key – a one-of-a-kind key that will unlock a box that holds a priceless gift. 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. (Walt Disney Pictures)
Starring: Mackenzie Foy, Keira Knightley and Helen Mirren
Writer: Ashleigh Powell
Directors: Joe Johnston and Lasse Hallstrom
Rating: G (Canada)/PG (United States)
Running Time: 99mins
The Nutcracker and the Four Realms follows the story of Clara (Foy), a young, inquisitive girl, who finds her life at a bit of a crossroads. With her mother’s passing, Clara is bequeathed a golden egg that requires a one-of-a-kind key to open. At a Christmas party hosted by her godfather Drosselmeyer (Morgan Freeman), Clara follows a golden thread towards the key that transports her into a strange, magical world. Here she discovers a world divided into four realms: The Land of Snowflakes, The Land of Sweets, The Land of Flowers and the mysterious Fourth Realm. With the help of the Captain of the Nutcrackers (Jayden Fowora-Knight) and Sugar Plum (Knightley), Clara hopes to defeat the tyrannical Mother Ginger (Mirren) and save this world while retrieving the key to unlock her mother’s gift.
Right from the start, you can tell how this film is going to go. In a sweeping long shot of Old London, people are seen enjoying various holiday festivities. However, these people look almost cartoon-like, as if the film is going to look like Polar Express or The Adventures of Tintin until the focus shifts onto Clara and her family who look like normal live-action people. This is just the tip of the mountain of problems that this film seems to find itself falling into. Disney seems to have distanced themselves from the issues that plagued their previous live-action stories before.
Instead, Disney fails to avoid so many exhausted tropes that hinder this classic tale. From the overused child trying to find meaning after a parent’s death to the traveling to a mystical land to become its saviour, The Nutcracker pushes away from its most important aspects to adhere to trendy themes from the last decade. Considering the story is adapted from one titled “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King,” it is disappointing to see neither of these characters with a prominent role or stake in this tale. In fact, they are reduced to minor characters with boring and forgettable arcs. And of course there is the blatant destruction of Drosselmeyer’s storyline to make for an uninspired and pointless Morgan Freeman cameo.
There are a few promising characters in this film, although that list stops at three. Foy does a decent job trying to command this film in her first leading role, although at some points she feels lifeless and void of personality making it hard to connect with her. Mirren is her typical sassy self in a very limited role, but this film is Knightley’s. The character of Sugar Plum is so far out of her norm and Knightley is able to bring such complexity and charm to this flawed fairy.
Beyond the characters, the script also has its fair share of dialogue issues and continues to veer away from the aspects of the original that make it unique. The film manages to adapt the melodic themes of Tchaikovsky’s classic through its score, but aside from one dance scene, the film lacks in fulfilling the ballet quota needed for this iconic story. The CGI can be rather hard to look at, especially the toy soldiers who are so inorganic and out of place within their scenes. Despite this, it is somehow able to deliver on being a visual delight through its intricate costumes, bright colours and beautiful world that make up most of the memorable parts of this very loose adaptation.
The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is a magical family adventure that takes the name of a famous ballet then throws out everything else to do with it. While the world is a marvel to look at and some of the actors deliver, the characters are mostly forgettable, the script is a mess and some of the CGI borders on passable making a trip to this realm one that can be easily delayed. It is a step back for Disney as this feels like Cinderella mixed with Chronicles of Narnia and Alice in Wonderland.
*The Nutcracker and The Four Realms opens in theatres on November 2nd*
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