Disney’s latest live action adventure draws inspiration from ballet and fairy tale in an attempt to create Christmas magic. With solid directors and some inveterate actors in key roles, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms should be en pointe, but it is more than just the Land of Amusements that has something amiss in.
On Christmas Eve, Clara (Mackenzie Foy) is drawn into a magical realm in which her recently departed mother once ruled. There she finds herself pitted against Mother Ginger (Helen Mirren) and the Mouse King in an attempt to save the Four Realms. With a loyal Nutcracker soldier, Captain Phillip Hoffman (Jayden Fowora-Knight), by her side Clara must discover the strength to save her kingdom, but everything is not as it seems.
Somewhere early on in the development of The Nutcracker and the Four Realms something must have gone horribly wrong. You can see it in the lackluster performances of the veteran actors, as they just phone in their work. You can almost glimpse the look of relief buried under the copious make-up obscuring Richard E Grant’s face, caused by the fact that his face is obscured under copious make-up. They know there’s issues with the script, and they’re just there to earn a pay cheque. It is a film that is muddled in its story-line and tone, striving for Disney magic and producing something that looks beautiful, but is empty and ponderous.
Tonally The Nutcracker really is unsure of what it wants to be – dark fairy tale, traditional ballet, magical fantasy, thinly veiled diatribe against the military industrial complex (OK that last one may be a bout of apophenia in a vague attempt to keep my brain amused while watching this). In truth, none of these are antithetical to each other, if they got the mix right. It desperately desires to be an instant Disney Christmas classic (even stitching in a blatant reference to Fantasia), and in being the very definition of a safe, bland film, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms fails to achieve that desire. The mix is all over the place, as elements are hurled into the pot without a cohesive overall vision. The horror elements are truly terrifying as a mountain of rodents take on the form of a hulking man, or a gang of clowns cavort as if they’re straight from the acid fueled nightmares of Pennywise. The comedic or dance elements lurch into the film, then stumble off into the distance. The whole film is a bit of a mess, like a dessert bowl crammed with every sweet and colourful candy possible, before being drowned in chocolate syrup. A couple of spoonfuls later, you realise the depth of your mistake.
And like candy The Nutcracker and the Four Realms does draw you in with its visual appeal. There is no doubt it is a richly appointed film, with its sets and costuming adding interest lacking in the script and the plodding pacing of the piece. Ultimately though it really is empty calories, and whereas there’s nothing egregiously wrong with the film, it is a misstep that fails to achieve what it clearly sets out to do.