Warning: Minor spoilers ahead for “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms.”
Disney’s newest bid for nostalgic moviegoers is “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms,” based on E.T.A. Hoffmann’s classic tale – and, of course, its famous ballet adaptation, scored by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.
Clara (Mackenzie Foy) is a young girl reeling from the death of her mother. On Christmas Eve, her father gives her a gift from her mother, but it’s impossible to open without a unique key. During her search for the key – and, essentially, for peace of mind instead of mourning – Clara stumbles upon the four realms.
Clara’s mother was the queen of this parallel universe (unbeknownst to her family), which means Clara is hailed as its princess. She befriends a Nutcracker soldier, battles an army of mice, and meets the three rulers of three realms. The fourth, however, has gone rogue and launched a war.
Clara is tasked with bringing harmony and balance to her mother’s beloved kingdom.
Why you should care: The film will test audience loyalty to the Walt Disney name.
As Forbes’ Scott Mendelson pointed out when the teaser trailer dropped (a full 11 months before the film’s release date, by the way), “The Nutcracker” seems a strange submission for Disney’s blockbuster holiday movie.
Illumination’s “The Grinch,” scheduled for a November 9 release, seems poised to make a strong bid as the children’s Christmas movie of the year. Warner Bros.’ “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” is all but guaranteed a blockbuster run when it hits theatres on November 16. And the much-anticipated sequel to “Wreck-It Ralph” will probably enjoy a strong Thanksgiving weekend debut.
In other words, “The Nutcracker” is up against some stiff competition this season and, frankly, it doesn’t seem worthy of Disney’s full confidence.
“This seems to be the kind of project that rival studios would make as their own fairy tale competition to contest with Disney rather than the genuine article,” Mendelson wrote.
“Point blank, will folks be inspired to sample the goods just because this fairy tale adventure has the Walt Disney brand attached?”
What’s hot: Mackenzie Foy shows potential as a brave, clever female lead
Foy may look familiar to younger audiences: She portrayed Bella and Edward’s almost-creepily-perfect-looking half-vampire daughter in the final “Twilight” film. Now 17 years old, thanks to her youthful freckled face and porcelain features, casting her as Clara makes aesthetic sense. She looks the part.
The good news is, she also has talent. That freckled face is subtly expressive, and she does her best to give depth to the tired lines she’s given. With a fresh script and better supporting characters, Foy could do much more with her star power potential.
Clara is also given a few updates, fit for a young female protagonist in 2018. In the original story and the ballet adaptation, Clara certainly has nerve; she throws her slipper at the intimidating Mouse King and saves the Nutcracker, after all.
In Disney’s version, Clara is not just brave. She is also heroic and extremely clever. She has a genuine interest in physics and a knack for mechanical engineering – traits that are not simply thrown in as feminist flair, but essential to her eventual triumph.
Even the Nutcracker, originally conceived as a heroic soldier and dashing prince, becomes her sidekick. (In the film, his name is Phillip. Played by Jayden Fowora-Knight, he too is utterly charming.)
What’s not: It’s painfully predictable and even the “twists” are cliché
The highlight of the film is when Misty Copeland appears to perform snippets of the original ballet, which apparently tells the story of how Clara’s mother discovered the realms.
In fact, I would have rather watched Copeland perform the entirety of Tchaikovsky’s iconic production – which I’ve already seen numerous times – than sit through Disney’s spin-off.
Copeland provides a perfect example of why some classics shouldn’t be messed with, even when you think you have something fresh to contribute. The film attempts to upend your expectations of the story, but each and every revelation or twist falls completely flat.
“The Nutcracker” simply took tropes, character traits, and plot points from other movies that no one asked to relive, including “The Chronicles of Narnia,” “Alice in Wonderland,” “Peter Pan” – and, weirdly enough, “The Santa Clause 2.”
The film offers two major scenes, ostensibly meant to serve as emotional anchors, as moments of growth or self-realisation. But they’re so painfully cliché – don’t be surprised if both cause the adults in the audience to laugh out loud.
Indeed, “The Nutcracker” manages to make Keira Knightley cringey and grating. It manages to make the beloved Sugar Plum Fairy grotesque. (And it’s not Knightley’s fault: At one point, she eats her own cotton candy-coloured hair. This movie asks her to make literal self-cannibalism seem funny and cute, which is, by definition, too much to ask. )
It seems that Helen Mirren, as pseudo-villain Mother Ginger, and Morgan Freeman, as Clara’s mysterious godfather Drosselmeyer, are simply thrown in to make the film more intriguing to older audiences. It doesn’t work.
It also complicates the film itself: Was it made for children? Families? Fantasy buffs? Adventure enthusiasts? It’s unclear.
The bottom line:
I almost feel bad trashing (what I take to essentially be) a kids’ movie with perfectly likable 17-year-old lead, but there’s just no reason why this adaptation should exist.
It feels like even children – especially in this era of on-demand entertainment and content saturation – will find the film annoying and predictable. Its recycled plot, garish costume design, and half-hearted callbacks to the original add nothing to the beloved story of “The Nutcracker.” You’d be far better off watching the ballet again.
“The Nutcracker and the Four Realms” is in theatres November 2. Watch a trailer below.