The Nutcracker and the Four Realms Review: Nothing to write home about
Elaborately imagined sets, the intricate and stunning costumes of members of the new world, the beautifully choregraphed ballet routines not helped by a disappointing narrative
Based on E.T.A. Hoffmann’s 1816 story, The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, and The Nutcracker Ballet by Marius Petipa, Disney’s latest fantasy project has only the power to impress with its visuals. If one were to take away the elaborately imagined sets, the intricate and stunning costumes of members of the new world, the beautifully choregraphed ballet routines, and what you are left with is a disappointing narrative that fails to engage the viewer in any significant way. And though her character on page perhaps invites a certain annoyance and disdain from the reader, Keira Knightley’s shrill portrayal as Sugar Plum can only be described as below par. Mackenzie Foy plays Clara Stahlbaum, an imaginative girl coming to terms with the recent death of her mother. Under the circumstances, and with a less-than-stellar script to contend with, she does okay. This subpar writing leads to multiple moments in the plot that drag and bore you. Some parts, especially the ones that involve Clara’s escape and subsequent return to save the four realms, are subject to poor editing – with the narrative being presented in a disjointed manner, eschewing regard for continuity or context.
Cast: Mackenzie Foy, Keira Knightley, Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman, Eugenio Derbez, Matthew Macfadyen, Richard E. Grant, Misty Copeland
Director: Lasse Hallström and Joe Johnston
The story begins on Christmas Day in London. Clara Stahlbaum and her brother Fritz are in the attic, with the former enchanting her younger sibling in the magic of “science and little bit of luck.” She has just set up a complex mousetrap, and explains to Fritz the importance of Newton’s Third Law of Motion for their experiment. Not long after, they are summoned to join their father downstairs. Each of the children (Clara, Fritz, and Louise) receives a gift on the request of their departed mother. Clara is presented with a silver box in the shape of an egg. She is unable to unlock the contraption in the absence of a key. The family heads to a festive ball, with the father making it clear to Clara that she must be sociable (to keep up appearances). Once at the party, she meets Drosselmeyer, her godfather, and asks him about the gift and note her mother left her. The party culminates in all the children receiving their Christmas presents. As she follows the rope that leads to her gift, she is led to a doorway that opens into a seemingly parallel world.
The most disappointing aspect of The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is its failure to keep the audience riveted. It is a grand tale of a parallel universe, after all. The visuals are indeed something to be marvelled at, make no mistake, but forty-five minutes in and even those begin to lose their sheen. I feel Mother Ginger’s (Helen Mirren) story arc ought to have been more central to the plot. She appears for ten or fifteen minutes through the narrative, at best. This reduced screen time coupled with the sole focus on Sugar Plum’s maniacal ambitions for the four realms, leaves the film in the lurch. Earnest performances come by the way of Mackenzie Foy and Jayden Fowora-Knight (playing Nutcracker soldier, Captain Philip Hoffman), but they are nowhere near enough to pull the story out of the depths of mediocrity. Apart from the ingeniously conceived parallel universe and the impressive ballet routines, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms does not have enough to sustain itself. Ordinary and middling are perfect words to describe this most recent of Disney’s fantasy features.