Movie Review: The Nutcracker and the Four Realms

Little of the classic story made it to the screen in this sour holiday confection

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms (Louskáček a čtyři říše)
Directed by Lasse Hallström and Joe Johnston
With Keira Knightley, Mackenzie Foy, Eugenio Derbez, Matthew Macfadyen, Richard E. Grant, Misty Copeland, Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman

(most copies are dubbed, but English ones do exist)

The holiday season inevitably brings family-oriented films. Some are treats, fun for adults and children alike. Others are chores that must be endured. The latest offering from Walt Disney, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, unfortunately offers lots of eye candy but has no heart and soul.

Most people know The Nutcracker from the ballet version. But the new Disney live-action version has very little dance and just snippets of Tchaikovsky’s music. Oddly, there is more dancing in the end credits than in the entire film.

The good parts of the film include the steampunk visual design, with a palace that looks like an even gaudier version of St Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow’s Red Square. There is a spooky forest and an abandoned amusement park.

The recent family film Christopher Robin has a similar structure, with a portal to a secret forest, and was able to create a more enchanting mood that could draw adults in as well. The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is likely to please neither.

The costumes are colorful as well, with the Sugar Plum Fairy (played by Keira Knightley) standing out in particular.

But one glaring omission in the film is an almost complete lack of nutcrackers, making one wonder why the word appears in the title at all. The film makes some references to nutcrackers, but the connections are weak.

The main character, a young girl named Clara (Mackenzie Foy), gets a locked Fabergé egg for Christmas, instead of a nutcracker, and has to find the lost key. It is sort of a princess version of The Lord of the Rings, with a key in place of a ring.

There are a few vague overlaps with the story by ETA Hoffmann and the ballet. There is a godfather named Drosselmeyer (Morgan Freeman) who makes clockwork toys. The Sugar Plum Fairy was a character in the ballet version.

There is also quite a bit about mice and a giant CGI mouse king, a moving mass of thousands of mice. The Mouse King was another element of the original story.

Clara has to go through the elaborate forest looking for the mouse that stole her key, while trying to avoid Mother Ginger (Helen Mirren) and her ninja harlequins, who live in a giant circus tent shaped like a puppet of Mother Ginger.

The story comes off like a bad fever dream told by someone mixing up the plots of several unrelated stories including the 1934 Laurel and Hardy holiday fantasy Babes in Toyland, Alfred Hitchcock’s 1951 thriller Strangers on a Train and The Wizard of Oz.

Part of that might be that the production itself was a disaster. Prolific Swedish art film director, Lasse Hallström, whose credits include What's Eating Gilbert Grape and Chocolat, did the original filming in late 2016 to January 2017. Apparently there was some dissatisfaction with the results, because comedy and action director Joe Johnston — who made Honey, I Shrunk the Kids; the original Jumanji; and Captain America: The First Avenger — was called in to reshoot over a month of the film at the end of 2017.

Who shot exactly what wasn’t clear, but the film’s tone is hopelessly uneven.

Mackenzie Foy does try her best to make a good role model of a young woman who takes action, leading the way rather than waiting to be rescued. But this is no Frozen. Her Clara is clever and independent, but sadly not memorable.

The cast is also quite diverse, showing that fairy tales can belong to everyone. But all of the support roles save for the Sugar Plum Fairy are dull as dry toast.

There is no excuse for the poorly constructed story, especially considering Disney has been making fairytale movies successfully since the 1930s.

There was a good story with good music, but that was thrown out for some reason and replaced with a generic hunt for a lost key.

Of course, you can just skip this and watch the Blue Ray disc of Frozen one more time, or dig into the classic Czech fairy tales for the holidays. The Nutcracker and the Four Realms misses on every level.

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