If Walt Disney wasn’t already the most powerful studio in the world. Within recent years it has become one after buying out Lucas Films, the Star Wars universe and now owning the cinematic Marvel Studios. This year like prior years they have churned out a wide range of films. The best and my favorite from this year is Ava Duvernay’s “A Wrinkle In Time”.
Disney now presents just in time for the holidays “The Nutcracker And The Four Realms”. Loosely inspired by the classic ballet “The Nutcracker”, this reimagining sits somewhere between “The Chronicles of Narnia”, “Alice in Wonderland”, and “Oz The Great And Powerful”. On a production level, “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms” is far better than the uninspiring Tim Burton “Alice in Wonderland”. All the spectacle is displayed on screen and the visuals are an assault on the eyes but everything looks amazing. As for the film itself it’s less uninspired and is very uneven. Maybe it was the month of massive reshoots, with an odd double billing in directorial credits. Shared by acclaimed two time Oscar nominee filmmaker Lasse Hallstrom (“What’s Eating Gilbert Grape”, “The Cider House Rules”), who shot the first go-round, and Joe Johnston (“The Rocketter”, “The WolfMan”, “Jumanji”) to come in and do the month long reshoots. The divide in creative authority isn’t immediately noticed nor does it go unnoticed, but the endeavor’s fractured storytelling suggests major elements of the plot were extensively reworked. “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms” isn’t a complete mess, but a connective tissue is difficult to find.
“Nutcracker And The Four Realms” gives us young Clara (Mackenzie Foy, “Twilight” and “Interstellar”) hides in the attic studying physics and building mousetraps as a way of dealing with her grief over her mother’s recent death. On Christmas Eve, her bereaved father (Matthew Macfadyen “Pride and Prejudice”) gives the children presents that their mom left for them; Clara gets a locked metal egg, but no key to access what lies inside. At a ball that evening, Clara ducks out to find Drosselmeyer (Morgan Freeman), who built the egg. Later that night Drosselmeyer has the children follow strings around the house to find their presents; Clara’s string takes her into another dimension where she learns that her mother was a queen of the four realms. Each realm is ruled by sweet Sugar Plum (Keira Knightley), flower-covered Hawthorne (Eugenio Derbez “How To Be A Latin Lover”), Icy Shiver (Richard E. Grant “Gosford Park”) and Mother Ginger (Helen Mirren). As Clara arrives, Mother Ginger seems to be waging war with the other three realms, and it’s up to Clara to fix it.
The movie spends a sizable chunk of its running time, nearly an hour out of it’s 1 hour and 40 minute running time in trying to explain its own premise. Within the hour Clara gets a tour of the realms that serves little purpose but to give costume designer Jenny Beavan, a chance to shine. And then the movie stops dead in its tracks for acclaimed ballerina dancer Misty Copeland to do a dance about Clara’s mother, but even this dance doesn’t quite explain if Clara’s mother created this world, or discovered it, or what is going on exactly? There is a lot of scenes that either take too long, isn’t necessary, missing chunks or never gets to the point. Like a scene with Sugar Plum demonstrating for no reason other than to explain how Clara can go on this adventure yet still return to Drosselmeyer’s party on time. She explains that time moves much more quickly in the Four Realms than it does back on Earth.
There are great sequences such as Clara riding into a forbidden forest, coming across a giant robotic woman whose tented skirts are a big top tent that reveal a collection of nesting doll clowns who jump in and out of each other. It’s as strange as it sounds and it’s a fantastic sequence.
Aside from the awe inspiring visual effects, the show ultimately belongs to Keira Knightley. The four regents all look outrageous but Knightley as the Sugar Plum Fairy takes the cake. Armed with a “sexy baby voice” and a mountain of pink candy floss hair, she turns in a wonderful and odd performance. It’s like nothing we’ve ever seen her do before, it’s camp to the degree that mixed with her beauty is irresistible. It’s miles away from her usual dramatic leading ladies of literature. Knightley’s performance actually makes for a pretty good summation of the film: it’s uneven and over the top but still manages to foster sweetness and charm.
“The Nutcracker And The Four Realms” is all spectacle and deserves an Oscar nomination in visual effects, art direction, costume design and set design. “The Nutcracker And The Four Realms” could have come directly from Robert Zemeckis and it should have, it wouldn’t have fell as short as what we got from the movies two accomplished filmmakers.
GRADE: ★★ OUT OF ★★★★★