Arts movie review

‘Alice in Wonderland’ meets ‘The Nutcracker’

Disney’s modern take on yet another classic tale

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Clara (Mackenzie Foy) looks in awe at her mother's kingdom with Hawthorne (Eugenio Derbez), Shiver (Richard E. Grant), and Sugar Plum (Keira Knightley).
COURTESY of walt disney studios

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms
Directed by Lasse Hallström and Joe Johnston
Screenplay by Ashleigh Powell
Starring Mackenzie Foy, Jayden Fowora-Knight, Helen Mirren, Keira Knightley, Morgan Freeman
Rated PG, Now Playing

Disney’s The Nutcracker and the Four Realms takes the traditional tale of The Nutcracker and tries to put its own original take on it. Clara Stahlbaum (Mackenzie Foy) is the brilliant middle child in a family that is clouded by grief due to her mother’s passing. It’s Christmas Eve, a holiday that used to bring the family together, but now brings feelings of melancholy as each member remembers the impact their mother, Marie Stahlbaum (Anna Madeley), had on their lives. Trying to keep the family together, Mr. Stahlbaum (Matthew Macfadyen) prepares his children for Drosselmeyer’s (Morgan Freeman) annual Christmas Eve party. During Drosselmeyer’s gift-giving sequence to the children attendees, Clara finds a string that ultimately leads to one of her mother’s greatest inventions: a world filled with children’s playthings brought to life.

Our expectations were already low after watching the trailer, and unfortunately, they weren’t exceeded. Overall, it is a classic, feel-good movie. A dysfunctional family is brought together after the daughter takes a life-changing adventure and sees the error in her ways. The costume and world design is beautiful in the way fantasy movies typically are. You are awed by the beauty of the world at hand and the unique eccentricities that greet your eye upon first glance.

However, the plot is not very complicated and mostly predictable. Even the exposition of the new world is typical: a girl is in awe of a new place but soon meets the evil villain before she’s rescued by a heroic prince and taken to a castle where she learns the backstory of this mysterious land. She then is somehow “The Chosen One” and is expected to lead a quest before returning home and realizing how much she appreciates her family. Its ending makes you feel a little warm inside, but there are better feel-goods out there.

Another thing to note are the allusions to pop culture. There are glances at things like Wizard of Oz and Fantasia, but the more obvious ones are from where this movie takes its primary inspiration: The Nutcracker and the Mouse King and The Nutcracker ballet. Some are cute, such as the introduction of the different realms, but most things seemed in need of proper execution. For instance, the lack of worldbuilding in the movie leaves much to be desired. Clara probably spends at most fifteen seconds of screen time in the Realm of Sweets, the Realm of Flowers, and the Realm of Snowflakes receiving gifts of sweets and flowers from each realm’s inhabitants. And that’s it. Boom. Done. We never again see what might happen to the other realms or even how they contribute to the greater balance of this carefully crafted world by Marie Stahlbaum.

Then there’s the soundtrack. We really wish the movie could have integrated more of “The Nutcracker Suite” into the film. Perhaps motifs from “The Nutcracker Suite” are prevalent throughout the soundtrack, but they’re subtle enough to not even be noticed; and whenever the motifs are blatantly obvious, it’s really just the same few recognizable measures of music that are played over and over again.

There’s also the Nutcracker (Jayden Fowora-Knight), which brings in the problem of character development. Every character in the film embodies a classic archetype, but doesn’t reach far from the basics. Philip the Nutcracker is your loyal guardian. Cavalier (Omid Djalili) and Harlequin (Jack Whitehall) are your Dumb and Dumber, and basically only serve as lame comedic relief. Drosselmeyer is the sagely guide for the insecure, emotionally challenged protagonist, Clara, who (surprise!) has the inner strength to fix the broken world. In particular, we actually found Clara’s self-esteem quite confusing. There are moments where she’s torn by the loss of her mother and begs the spirit of her mother to give her strength to continue doing the right thing. Then, in the very next scene, she’ll be suited up like a war general, leading a legion of soldiers into the Fourth Realm to combat Mother Ginger (Helen Mirren). Where is the connecting development between these two sequences? Does Clara’s radical self-esteem just swing left and right for the convenience of the plot? Unfortunately, that seems to be the case.

Like most other movies these days, there just didn’t seem to be a point to this film besides to make some money and to see Morgan Freeman in an eyepatch. There were no actors that stood out in particular. It was only while writing this review that we discovered the lead actress is the same girl as the one who played 10-year-old Murph in Interstellar, and it was disappointing to realize that this movie squandered her potential. There were many stiff scenes, especially in the beginning, which made the relationships between characters feel forced and unnatural. Ironically, this actually works in the beginning when Clara has a conflict with her father, but not so much when she’s meeting new people and finding a potential new love interest. If you want to see Mackenzie Foy at her peak (so far), we’d definitely recommend watching Interstellar instead.

The saddest part for us is the fact that Disney has the capability to make so many great films, yet this is the content they decide to produce.