By: Oberst Von Berauscht (Five Beers) –
Clara Stahlbaum (Mackenzie Foy) and her family are celebrating their first Christmas shortly after the death of her mother Marie. Despite their recent trauma, her father insists the family attend the Christmas party being held by Clara’s godfather Drosselmeyer (Morgan Freeman). Clara and Drosselmeyer have a unique friendship forged by their mutual fascination with mechanical engineering (because… that’s totally something a Victorian-era high society woman would be allowed to partake in).
For her Christmas present, Drosselmeyer sends Clara into the world of the Four Realms, a hidden kingdom which her mother secretly reigned over, made up of toys brought to life. The realms consist of the Land of Snowflakes, the Flowers Realm, the Sweets Realm, and the Realm of Amusements. In her mother’s absence the realms have fallen into turmoil, with Mother Ginger (Helen Mirren) of the Realm of Amusements (now just called “the fourth realm”) declaring war against the other three realms. Upon arrival, Clara meets a Nutcracker soldier named Captain Hoffman (Jayden Fowora-Knight) who takes her to meet with the three regents of the other realms, where she is immediately seen as the one who can save the kingdom.
The “Chosen One” narrative again… For fuck’s sake.
The Nutcracker and the Four Realms manages one thing of any notoriety: keeping CGI effects artists employed until a better movie comes along. Director Lasse Hallström (for most of the film until Joe Johnson was brought in for re-shoots) brings every trick in his visual bag for this story. Unfortunately, it rings hollow from overuse of gaudy computer effects that feel like bits cut out of the Tim Burton Alice in Wonderland movie (minus a makeup-caked Johnny Depp)
All that shit on your face would make a French Prostitute from the 1700s envious.
Ok, I will give the film one more mild piece of kudos, and this goes mostly to Matthew Macfadyen who plays Clara’s father. He’s only in the bookending opening and closing segments of the film, but his performance is by far the film’s only redeeming factor. He wonderfully carries the emotion of a recent widower struggling to convey his feelings in repressed society that expects him to carry on regardless. He is the heart and soul of a film that lacks both of those things otherwise.
As mentioned before, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms opens and closes with emotion that the rest of the film completely fails to earn. It speeds through the familiar aspects of the Nutcracker story, introducing characters and then failing utterly to develop them. The characters the film spends any time with at all are mostly there to provide exposition. Oh, and the Regent of the Land of Snowflakes looks like Bob Hope from his infamous “Jack Frost” Christmas special.
(when the dementia began to kick in)
Beer Three *Spoiler alert*
I do want to say that I’m glad Keira Knightley tried to step outside her comfort zone playing a perky and nefarious “Sugar Plum Fairy”, but my lord is it overdone. Not only that, but the “twist” of the film that she’s actually the real villain is pretty obvious from the moment she’s seen. She is the kind of creepy-jovial personality that is outwardly friendly, but clearly hides bodies in a cellar somewhere. Oh, that and the costume she has seems like something out of The Hunger Games, so that doesn’t help the subtlety at all.
Your Throne, we wants it….
The film’s use of the original Nutcracker suite is sparse at best. It shows up as elements in and out of the background on occasion, but the majority of the film’s music is the original score by James Newton Howard. This original score is seldom interesting, and often downright intrusive. Even moments that feel like should be quiet are coated with maudlin, sweetly overly sentimental orchestration. And while I will admit it is still eons better than the compositional decisions of The Nutcracker in 3D (where they thought the one thing the Nutcracker Suite was missing most was lyrics), that film was at least the work of the singular vision of an obsessive madman. The music of this film, much like the rest of the film, feels as if it were decided on by committee.
The film clocks in at 99 minutes, thankfully not the two and a half hour epic that so many of these recent big budget fantasy films have been getting. Unfortunately even while well under two hours, the movie drags its feet due to endless exposition. It seems like after the moment Clara enters the Four Realms every scene for the next 40 minutes just exists to explain to the audience things that could probably have been shown. Even if it lengthened the runtime, it would have made the film more interesting.
There’s a reason The Nutcracker and the Four Realms debuted in late October. Disney’s marketing team realized they could never sell this as their big year-end Christmas blockbuster, but because it features horrifyingly gaudy costumes, Halloween would do.
The Nutcracker and the Four Realms (2018) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: whenever someone says “Nutcracker”, “Realm”, or “Mother Ginger”
Take a Drink: when a recognizable piece from the Nutcracker Suite plays as diegetic music
Take a Drink: for sweeping camerawork that feels impressive until you remember it is all being done in a computer
Do a Shot: anytime the ballet is alluded to or explicitly shown