Director: Lasse Hallström, Joe Johnston
Cast: Keira Knightley, Mackenzie Foy, Eugenio Derbez, Matthew Macfadyen, Richard E. Grant, Miranda Hart, Sergei Polunin, Jayden Fowora-Knight, Omid Djalili, Jack Whitehall, Meera Syal, Ellie Bamber, Misty Copeland, Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman
RunTime: 1 hr 40 mins
Rating: PG (Some Frightening Scenes)
Released By: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Opening Day: 1 November 2018
Synopsis: All Clara (Mackenzie Foy) 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 (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. Starring Keira Knightley as the Sugar Plum Fairy, Disney’s new holiday feature film “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms” is directed by Lasse Hallström and Joe Johnston, and inspired by E.T.A. Hoffmann’s classic tale.
Either Disney had chosen to ignore the failure of the CGI-heavy/boring Alice Through the Looking Glass or they are simply too rich and powerful to bother.
We simply can’t shake off the feeling that we have seen all these before after we left the screening of Disney’s latest live-action fantasy adventure, The Nutcracker And The Four Realm. To be exact, it’s like an exhausting mixture of The Chronicles of Narnia and Alice in Wonderland that Disney is probably right not to screen to the media in advance.
The movie opens on Christmas Eve where we are introduced to our YA protagonist, Clara (played by a grown-up Mackenzie Foy from The Conjuring and Interstellar) and her various family members. Though they are still grieving over Clara’s recent deceased mother, her father tells her that the spirit of Christmas needs to go on; shortly after, they make their way to a grand party thrown by Clara’s inventor godfather, Drosselmeyer (a brief cameo by Morgan Freeman with an eyepatch and fake wig).
The ball in the end is just an excuse for Clara to wonder off into the four realms. What exactly are the four realms? Apparently, they are magical realms created by Clara’s late mother, a place which her mum is declared as a Queen which conveniently makes Clara a Princess. But all is not well at the realms as they are at war with the evil Mother Ginger (a rather underused Helen Mirren) and her equally sinister clowns and army of mice. To reclaim the realms, Clara must first look for a magical key and team up with Sugar Plum fairy (Keira Knightly in cutesy mode) and a loyal Nutcracker soldier (newcomer Jayden Fowora-Knight) to fight against their maniacal enemy.
Rather than based on German writer ETA Hoffmann’s short story, The Nutcracker and the Mouse King and Marius Petipa’s Nutcracker Ballet, the credits state that it’s “suggested” by it. That accurately sums up the mediocracy of the final material. For a start, Disney should be praised for coming up with a smart, strong-willed female protagonist who possesses both technical knowledge, leadership but also has no qualms risking her life fighting creepy clowns and toy soldiers that comes to life.
Still, The Nutcracker And The Four Realm is more of a technical achievement than a story worth telling despite a predictable midway twist. Ironically, the most entertaining aspect is a stage act within the movie which makes excellent use of ballet and physical props. Furthermore, the movie does have its dark scary standout moments especially with entertaining acrobatic clowns and a giant made up of numerous tiny mice. It sounds that we are desperately trying to squeeze out whatever good The Nutcracker has to offer in order to differentiate itself from other similar Disney titles and indeed this is the case.
Even with a mere 101 minutes running (Cinderella clocking in at 105 minutes, Alice in Wonderland at 108 minutes and Beauty and the Beast at a whopping 129 minutes), The Nutcracker still feels 20 minutes too long with the story proceedings lacking much surprise and feeling very pedestrian. The immersive CGI landscapes is a wonder to behold though it sacrifices all the hard work put in by production designer Guy Hendrix Dyas.
Sharing a co-directing credit with Lasse Hallstrom (The Cider House Rules) is Joe Johnston (Captain America) who puts in over 30 days of reshoots. Hallstrom’s forte might be his heartening storytelling and Johnston with his experience in visual effects though unfortunately, both filmmakers seem to be behaving like fishes out of water with the material.
In the grand tradition of Disney’s themed princess stories, The Nutcracker And The Four Realm ends on a happy festive note. Despite Mackenzie Foy’s serviceable performance as Disney’s latest heroic princess with the whip-wielding Mirren and Knightly playing against type, its evidence that there’s too little done to salvage the entire storytelling from boredom.
P.S. Italian singer Andrea Bocelli and his son, Matteo teams up for the moving theme song, “Fall On Me”.
(Incredibly magical and appealing if you are 12 years and below; otherwise it’s too bland and too safe)
Review by Linus Tee