One of the most boring movies I’ve seen this year.
I just want to start this review by acknowledging that I am not this movie’s target audience. Case in point, the theatre was filled with families accompanied by little kids screaming their heads off and dressed in holiday sweaters, and I was the loner in the corner sipping iced tea and dressed all in black. Alright, now that we’ve established I have no one to love me, let’s talk about The Nutcracker and the Four Realms (2018)!
A new take on both the original story, “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King,” as well as the ballet, The Nutcracker, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms follows Clara Stahlbaum, played by Mackenzie Foy, a young girl who travels to a magical land to retrieve a golden key that was gifted to her by her deceased mother. When she arrives she meets a collection of colourful characters and learns that the land is in danger from Mother Ginger, the disgraced regent of the mysterious Fourth Realm, played by Helen Mirren. If for some reason you find yourself burdened with taking children to the movies this weekend, good Lord talk them into seeing anything but this. I didn’t think it was possible, but Disney, a studio built on magic, actually made one of the dullest fantasy movies I’ve ever seen. That’s just mind-boggling to me. EVERY fantasy movie follows the same basic formula, guaranteed to bring some level of enjoyment to viewers, so you have to really miss the mark to deliver a movie completely devoid of charm or intrigue such as this one.
The movie starts with a sweeping shot of Victorian London, and you’ll have to remind yourself that you’re not watching a video game. The amount of CGI in this movie is nauseating and what’s worse, it’s not even that breathtaking to look at. This is no Beauty and the Beast (2017) where you totally believe that a teapot is serenading a waltzing couple. The practical sets on the other hand are a wonder to behold, grand and stunning. It should come as no surprise considering the movie’s ties to ballet which traditionally, have always been a feast for the eyes. Unfortunately, except for a single four-minute performance, that’s the only ballet-related thing about this movie.
Then we get introduced to Clara’s family and I literally laughed out loud. Her sister wears a hideous dress that makes her look like Little Bo Peep, her brother doesn’t need to be in this movie, and her dad says at least four times that all he wants to do is, “share a dance with my daughter.” Did I walk into the wrong theatre? Am I watching a reverse Footloose (1984)? I wish.
I also had to laugh at Mackenzie Foy’s terrible English accent. I get that she looks like a princess, but Disney really should have hired an actual English actress and held off on hiring Foy until they’re ready to make that live-action remake of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937). Yeah, of course that’s happening. As far as protagonists go Clara is pretty generic. Her family considers her odd, she has a deceased parent, she’s an inventor…hardly original. Speaking of unoriginal, this movie is basically The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005): A brunette English girl travels through a door and finds herself in the snowy forest of a magical realm and befriends a local who informs her of the danger that only she as royalty in this land can defeat. Sound familiar? This movie is guilty of lifting elements and tropes from previous fantasy movies and just dropping them into this one no matter how out of place they feel. Blatant rip-offs aside, I have to give some props to the movie for transforming its heroine, who in past iterations hasn’t been very skilled, into a gifted inventor and mechanic. It warms my 22-year-old heart to know that kids today have a plethora of resourceful and intelligent movie characters to look up to.
One of the biggest problems with The Nutcracker and the Realms is that it tells us EVERYTHING, instead of showing us. Like, this movie might as well have been an audiobook. The harshest offender is Keira Knightley as The Sugar Plum Fairy. She literally tells us who and what everything is, why they are the way that they are, and what sort of action needs to be taken. Devoting so much of the runtime to expositional dialogue really slows the story down which is bad enough in a regular movie, but even worse for this one considering there’s hardly any action. There are a couple of action scenes in the middle and at the end of the movie, and God, it feels like hours before you’re rewarded with one of them. The action scenes may not be very thrilling, but any reprieve from The Sugar Plum Fairy’s high-pitched squeaky voice is reason enough for celebration. Evidently no one told Keira Knightley this wasn’t a cartoon.
So, Helen Mirren is in this movie as its villain, Mother Ginger. “Mother Ginger” sounds a lot more like a brand of cookies than an evil villain but fine movie, I’ll go along with it. This had to be the easiest paycheque that Helen Mirren has ever earned. She does a little voice-over work and is in maybe four scenes and that’s it. She barely has time to do anything spooky or remotely menacing. Well, actually that’s not true. She commands these nightmarish clowns that dance around and giggle and whose faces never move. They reminded me of Floop’s Fooglies from Spy Kids (2001), they were that terrifying. Speaking of henchmen, Mother Ginger commands an army of mice and their leader, The Mouse King, is as charismatic as he is adorable. You know you’ve messed up your movie when the best character is a non-verbal CGI mouse.
A rare misstep for Disney, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms has nothing new to add to the fantasy genre. It believes itself to be suspenseful, action-packed, and heart-warming, when in reality it’s just bland, basic, and definitely not worth the price of admission. Clichéd and predictable writing only adds to the lack of fun, and if you’re over the age of seven, you’ll see the “plot twists” coming from a mile away. Fun fact, between the two of them, co-directors Lasse Hallström and Joe Johnston have directed, Dear John (2010), Safe Haven (2013), Jurassic Park III (2001), and The Wolfman (2010). Wow, who could have seen this movie turning out poorly?
Will you be seeing The Nutcracker and the Four Realms? Are you a fan of the original story or ballet?
Let me know in the comments or on social media!