UK Release Date: 2nd November 2018
Runtime: 99 minutes
Director: Lasse Hallström, Joe Johnston
Writer: Ashleigh Powell
Starring: Mackenzie Foy, Jayden Fowora-Knight, Keira Knightley, Helen Mirren, Eugenio Derbez, Richard E Grant, Morgan Freeman, Matthew Macfadyen
Synopsis: A bereaved young girl enters a fantasy world in search of a gift from her late mother, but becomes involved in a power struggle between powerful, competing realms.
Towards the beginning of Disney’s latest visually sumptuous fantasy film The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, a character says that “Christmas comes whether we like it or not”, adding ruefully that “we must do our best to enjoy it”. It’s as if the film has briefly sidestepped into the world of The Grinch, but it’s a line that will likely resonate for parents forced to sit through this candy-coloured festive adventure. Disney has loaded its movie with colour and sugar but, like an old and stale stick of rock, that’s not enough to make it go down nicely.
For the Stahlbaum family, this Christmas is arriving under something of a cloud. Clara (Mackenzie Foy) and her siblings are dealing with the loss of their mother the previous year, but must put on a brave face when attending a party thrown by their godfather Drosselmeyer (Morgan Freeman). When Clara follows the string leading to the key that would unlock a present given by her mother, she is led into a snowy fantasy world, which her mother had seemingly visited before. She meets nutcracker soldier Philip Hoffman (Jayden Fowora-Knight) and the leaders of the three realms – including Keira Knightley‘s sickly sweet Sugar Plum Fairy. They reveal they are all at war with the macabre, circus-themed fourth realm, led by the darkly mysterious Mother Ginger (Helen Mirren).
It’s a muddled and bizarre plot that only becomes more confused by itself as the movie progresses. With two directors at the helm – Joe Johnston came on for reshoots when original helmsman Lasse Hallström was unavailable – the tone is inconsistent and many scenes seem to have been reshuffled beyond any coherence. It’s the cinematic equivalent of a creaky cut-and-shut. The usual big spectacle and impressive VFX work of Disney’s output is present and correct, but there’s a void where the storytelling and character should be.
That’s not to say, though, that the movie is entirely without merit. Mackenzie Foy, still best known as the unintentionally terrifying infant Renesmee in the Twilight movies, makes for a spirited lead, even though she’s saddled with the most cliché character as a young girl who is ‘strong’ because she is interested in ‘boy stuff’ like engineering. Keira Knightley, too, is having the time of her life in a role that enables her to dial up her vocal pitch and the camp of her performance, providing almost every one of the movie’s scant highlights.
It’s a relief that Knightley is present because, if it wasn’t for her, Nutcracker and the Four Realms would be an unmitigated snore. Never has a movie with so much visual extravagance and colour felt so flat and listless. This all comes to the fore in an extended ballet scene that nods to the origins of the Nutcracker tale. It’s a dance sequence that goes on for so long I found myself thinking about any number of other, more interesting things – putting the bins out, Brexit, and whether Jacob Rees Mogg knows about the existence of contraception. You know, the usual stuff.
This is a true head-scratcher of a film, from start to finish. Mired in its efforts to produce an evergreen festive classic to please families at Christmas, it’s instead a movie that caters to nobody. It discards its characters at random as if they’re worthless, and completely loses sight of any sort of narrative logic in its third act. Thank goodness for Keira Knightley and her candy floss hair. Only she saves the whole edifice from disaster.
Pop or Poop?
Despite its majestic festive visuals and the inspiration of a tale as old as time behind it, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms flounders on just about every front. Keira Knightley is a bundle of mad energy, but nobody else seems to be even slightly excited about what they’re doing. When that’s evident in front of the camera, it’s evident in the audience as well.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.