Cast: Mackenzie Foy, Jayden Fowora-Knight, Keira Knightley, Helen Mirren
Directors: Lasse Hallstrom, Joe Johnston
Synopsis from Rotten Tomatoes: All Clara (Mackenzie Foy) 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 (Morgan Freeman) 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 (Jayden Fowora-Knight), 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 (Helen Mirren), to retrieve Clara’s key and hopefully return harmony to the unstable world.
We have seen a plethora of adaptations of The Nutcracker over the years, but Disney’s The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is probably one of the most bizarre I have seen. I am not super familiar with the origins of this stories and have a vague idea of what it is about, but I promise you the only thing adapted from the original stories were the characters. The story is absolutely off the walls and I had no idea where they come up with this stuff. While the visual effects and costumes are a beautiful sight, the outrageous story and a rare poor performance from Knightley show us that Disney can indeed miss their mark and have done so with The Nutcracker and the Four Realms.
The film follows Clara (Foy), a young girl who gets transported to another world on Christmas Eve to find a present left for at a Christmas party. When a mouse steals this gift from her and gives it to Mother Ginger (Mirren), Clara must team up with other leaders in the realms to get her gift back and save the realms from destruction. Traditionally, I give movies a lot of credit if they take a story that has been adapted many times before and turn it into something completely new and updated. Think of something like West Side Story, which takes Romeo and Juliet and turns it into something new that fits the time period. This movie, however, tries to do that but has a rough time executing the plan that is put in place. If you had no knowledge about the history of The Nutcracker before watching this movie, you probably walked away from this thinking, “why do people love that ballet so much?” I understand the point of updating an adaptation so that you show the world something new, but this just feels like a rare failure on Disney’s end to grab some cash as the holiday season gets underway. Outside of the strange story decisions, I am not sure who told Keira Knightley her performance was acceptable for a film with a $120 million budget, but they really need to reevaluate how they direct such a talented actress. Besides the whiny pitch she speaks at the entire time, her character has no real sense of direction or identity. Knightley goes from vastly overacting in scene to barely showing any emotion at all in the next scene. Knightley is usually better than this as proven in her critically acclaimed career, but she did not show off the best of her abilities here. This cast is absolutely stacked and there is no reason why any of these talented actors should have performed at this level. While Mirren brought another strong performance to the screen and Foy showcased that she will be a brilliant young actress moving forward, they were not enough to make up for some of the more lackluster performances littered throughout the film. While the acting and story are subpar, at least the film was physically beautiful to look at. The effects were fluid, the color palates varied tremendously and were never distracting, and the costumes were well thought out and inspired. This is not surprising due to Johnston’s previous work on films that relied heavily on their effects, so I am glad he still has his special touch on films. I wish every part of the movie could have been as good as the visuals, because then we would have gotten something truly special instead of the incoherent project that was shown to us.
Overall, Disney followed the same formula earlier this year with A Wrinkle In Time and it yielded the same results. A film that focused almost exclusively on how pretty the film looks instead of the quality of the final product, this film could have benefited from someone stepping in and telling those involved what was going wrong. I figured Disney did not have much confidence in this movie since they gave a Christmas-themed movie an early November release, but I guess they just decided to cut their losses and try to recover as much money as they can on a project that seemingly went nowhere.
Overall Score: 4.5/10