Dir. Lasse Hallström and Joe Johnston
Starring: Keira Knightley, Mackenzie Foy, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, Matthew Macfayden, Richard E. Grant, Eugenio Derbez and Jayden Fowora-Knight
Based upon the book by Alexander Dumas, and the famous ballet. The Nutcracker and The Four Realms is Disney’s attempt o launch a new family franchise. Arriving just in time for Christmas, and with a starry cast, it looked as if Disney could have another hit on their hands, but I’d hardly seen a trailer for the film going in, which is always a worrying sign. Then there’s the fact that there are two directors attached to this movie. Lasse Hallström and Joe Johnston. It’s reported that Hallström was in charge of principal photography, and Joe Johnston only stepped in when re-shoots were needed and Hallström was unavailable, nothing too unusual in that, but when this has occurred before the over director would get an executive producer credit, similar to what happened with Joss Whedon on Justice League and Tony Gilroy on Rouge One. Johnston getting a directors credit suggests that the film changed a lot during those reshoots.
The film is set on Victorian London, with an emphasis on clockwork machinery, which is just shy of steam-punk. Here we find Clara, played by Mackenzie Foy, who is grieving the death of her mother. Her mother left her a small metal egg, an egg which is locked but Clara does not possess the key for. When her father, Matthew Macfayden, takes her to her Godfathers Christmas Eve party, Clara finds herself wondering into a brand new world. The world of the four realms, she discovers her mother used to be Queen of these realms, but since she has gone Mother Ginger, Helen Mirren, has broken ranks and is seeking to destroy the realms, and only Clara can stop her.
To say that the film is uneven, is an understatement. There has clearly been an attempt to salvage the movie, which makes you wonder how bad the film was before Johnston got involved. It has spells which work well, and Mackenzie Foy does well in the lead role. It’s easy for child leads to come across as precocious and annoying, but she never falls into that territory. The visual effect work is all over the place, but when it pops the design is fantastic, and there has been a fantastic job done by the costume department. It all starts off promising enough, with a glorious sweeping shot of London at Christmas time, complete with skaters on the Thames, but soon goes rapidly downhill.
The dialogue is awful. I know this is a movie aimed at kids, but you still have to make an effort. It’s all so exposition heavy, that the maxim show don’t tell has clearly been thrown out the window. Character development is told to you, and any jokes land with a hefty thud. There is a sequence halfway through, which pretty much derails the whole movie. This is a sequence which involves actual ballet. It sums up all of the films flaws in about 10 minutes, even though it feels like 30. It robs the film of all of its forward momentum. Keira Knightley’s Sugar Plum Fairy says “time works different here.” She’s not wrong. In attempting to explain the plot to Clara, we get a ballet, with intermittent comments by Knightley to explain it, intercut with flashes of the different realms, and followed up by a scene in which Keira Knightley explains everything again. It’s dull, slow, and is really obviously the result of too many studio notes, and trying to fix something that clearly isn’t working.
There’s a lack of originality on display as well. The film feels like it’s lifted straight from The Chronicles of Narnia, I even wonder if some of the plot was based around what sets Disney had left from that venture. Bold choices have been made in the film, which is commendable, but they just don’t work. Keira Knightley puts on an instantly annoyingly high pitched voice as Sugar Plum Fairy, which makes her sound like Moaning Myrtle from the Harry Potter films. She really goes for it, but doesn’t have the energy or charisma to pull it off. Not to mention some weirdly eyebrow-raising interactions between the Clara’s bereaved dad, and his two daughters, especially after one puts on his dead wife’s favourite dress. I also feel like the title is very misleading. It should have been called The Nutcracker and The Two Sets We Could Afford.
This is a festive children’s film which fails to soar. It’s unevenly made, and despite the odd moment of magic, never really sucks you into the adventure. You end up feeling slightly cold by the end. Disney made a film earlier this year which had a similar story, with similar themes. Watch A Wrinkle In Time instead.