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Review: "The Nutcracker and the Four Realms"

by Chris Feil

Yes, Disney’s The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is another attempt to monetize a familiar property into CGI fantasy excess. This time it is the Tchaikovsky ballet (itself an adaptation of an adaptation) getting the family film treatment, often owing more narratively to its cinematic genre predecessors like Alice in Wonderland and the Narnia movies than its actual source material. While it does fall into the garish trappings of those films, the film gets a good bit more mileage out of not taking itself so straightfaced. Within that familiar framework, the film fascinates by letting itself get a little cuckoo.

Mackenzie Foy is Clara, a young girl mourning the death of her mother, bestowed a mysterious egg-shaped lockbox as a Christmastime dowry. Spiritually guided by her godfather, played by Morgan Freeman In An Eyepatch, she ventures into the fantasy land formerly visited by her mother. But now that wintery world is at war with itself, three of its more upbeat realms against a foggy, mouse-infested one lorded over by Helen Mirren’s Mother Ginger.

Whereas much of the film unfolds much as you would expect, it does so with expediency that its brethren should take a lesson from. This Nutcracker is a brisk 99 minutes (that’s 24 minutes and 45 seconds per realm, if you’re keeping track) and moves at a clip to help you ignore its cliches and still delight in its frequent oddness. Directed by Joe Johnston and Lasse Hallström, the film has flashes that made you think the two got high while watching a bunch of Jodorowsky and Greenaway films and said “screw it, let’s make a Nutcracker movie!”. It’s almost closer to a Candyland adpatation than a Nutcracker one, and in all of the delightfully crazy imaginable ways.

As prone as the film is too relying far too much on CGI, when it creates tangible design elements it brings something divine to its madness, like some stage-inspired flourishes and bizarre-o costuming choices like Richard E. Grant’s Snow Realm King long-taloned in ice manicures. And then there is Keira Knightley’s Sugar Plum Fairy. The actress is having more fun than any performance in a similar film, perhaps even commenting on the genre standards that catapulted her career. She coos hilariously, eats her cotton candy hair, and knows how to capitalize on the silliness the film kind of accidents itself into.

Though DVDs of the film could rightfully be sold at weed dispensaries, it isn’t always jostling between the dull and ironically delicious. At the film’s midpoint, it makes good on the story’s stage beginnings and delivers a sumptuous dance sequence led by the American Ballet Theatre’s Misty Copeland. The sequence (interrupted by a montage of Clara’s welcoming to the realms) is its most refined diversion, like something from mid-century Disney live action but gorgeously delivered. When the film uses its closing credits for full dance majesty, it’s exquisite.

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is like the Return to Oz for a new generation, a lavish footnote destined to be revisited by a cult shocked by such strangeness given to children in deceptively sweet packaging. It makes scarce sense beyond our understanding of how these kind of film’s work, its world-building all the more winning for its nonsense. And when Tchaikovsky has spent ages in the public domain, what’s the harm?

Grade: C+

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Reader Comments (9)

Do you think it could still be an Oscar contender for Makeup and Hair?

November 1, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterTravis C

Regardless of how bad the film looks, Jenny Beaven's costume design looks beautifully constructed and imaginative.

November 1, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterB. Lermontov

This film seems to be getting critics to say "I enjoyed it more than I thought I would" in various ways. Which leads me to believe that it will be a solid hit with the younger demographic that it's aimed at. Great casting for Keira Knightley who wears that outfit with a panache that doesn't surprise anyone. But the helium voice is a hoot. Will someone please cast Keira and Helena Bonham Carter in something together?

November 1, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterLadyEdith

I still kinda want to see this despite the bad reviews. I wish this didn't have an action template plot because I would love a dance structured fantasy film with this level of opulence, not Alice in Wonderland 2, like the trailers suggest.

I mostly want to go because Fall On Me is beautiful. That made me more interested in the film than any trailer

November 1, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterchasm301

Like Return to Oz, you say? I'm in.

November 1, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterRobert G

Wath the latest indian movie trailers at Trailerdekho

November 2, 2018 | Unregistered Commenteramalrajkea

Lasse Hallstrom. If it were 15 years ago, this would be a plausible Weinstein-produced Best Picture nominee.

November 2, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

I know this is probably bad but Keira Knightley + those sets! + those costumes! still kinda makes me want to see this.

November 2, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterSteve G

This looks pretty terrible. I'd love to see a newer film version of the Nutcracker that actually is just centered around the dancing.

I remember watching Mikhail Baryshnikov's Nutcracker on HBO as a kid and loving it. It didn't hurt that he was smokingly hot, of course.

November 3, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJJM

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