Let The Mystery Unfold
On Christmas Eve, Clara Stahlbaum (a name certain actors take great issue proncouncing), played by Mackenzie Foy, attends a party with her father and two siblings. Disobeying her father’s instruction to stay and mingle, she sneaks away and meets with the host, Drosselmeyer [Freeman], who is also her godfather. They discuss a silver egg created by Drosselmeyer and left to Clara by her late mother and how it must be opened with a special key. Clara follows a thread to her Christmas present and enters a magical Narnia-esque realm, only to have her gift, the key she desires, stolen by a mouse. From here, Clara learns from a nutcracker  that she is in fact a princess and heir to the four realms.
Throughout cinematic history there have been behind-the-scenes dramas and fall-outs that oust certain prominent creatives and every now and then they are very publicly displayed with the crediting of an extra director or writer. While that may not be the exact case with Disney’s big-budget The Nutcracker And The Four Realms, a month’s worth of reshoots under the care of a different director is never a good sign and tends to create an uneven, sometimes soulless production.
Despite not being an adaptation of a previous Disney release (for which Disney should be commended) it is overtly desperate to be Alice In Wonderland; from the structure to the characters, elements of Tim Burton’s quasi-sequel are present but whereas Alice was intentionally aloof and ditzy, with her head in the clouds, Clara is established as an extremely well-informed woman of science but never investigates the logic of the fantastic she is introduced to; in earnest, I genuinely can’t recall a moment where Clara questions her circumstances and surroundings as anything but true. This lack of agency, paired with a painfully simplistic and formulaic story (with an extremely obvious twist) makes the whole thing very panto – for anyone unaware, a panto or pantomime is an annual theatrical Christmas show for children in Britain that is notorious for its double entendres, cheap gags, bright colours and terrible acting.
Speaking of the acting, we have to talk about the appalling writing and uninspired performances. As a story, the Nutcracker is incredibly straightforward and marches along without any real hindrance, following a beat-by-beat formula, peppered with a medley of one-liners pinched from superior releases and truly bizarre lines like “Nutcrackers are very loyal”? What does that mean? What are you backing that up with? And yet I have to offer a semblance of leniency to the lead performances as they are young actors and it can feel incredibly spiteful and unfair to review them harshly. Admittedly, they do what they can but at no point was I captivated by either Foy or Fowora-Knight. But the same cannot be said for the rest of the actors who were completely squandered. From small supporting roles to key parts, a host of exceptionally talented individuals were given either little-to-nothing to do or tragically elementary and predictable responsibilities.
When analysing the technical aspects of this film, my review effectively splits down the centre. On one side, a gaudy, cheap-looking mess, on the other a resplendent celebration. Let’s deal with the latter first. The reason this movie isn’t a complete write-off is a combination of two factors. First we have the score benefitting from the ballet origins but regrettably this only serves to highlight how mediocre James Newton Howard’s original work is by comparison; and this is coming from a more than capable composer. Secondly, we have the stellar production design and costume work. The sets and outfits are truly magnificent and show an attention to detail that this film both needed and displays well. A mixture of turn of the 20th century military pomp with fantasy whimsy, it is an altogether thoroughly pleasing treat. The same, unfortunately, cannot be said for the digital elements. The film itself opens with a completely lifeless impossible camera movement, flying through the Christmas festooned streets of “jolly old Victorian London,” regurgitating memories of 2009’s A Christmas Carol This unfortunately never really improves as are treated to a CGI mouse-man, CGI clowns bowling over CGI tin soldiers on a CGI backdrop that looks as plasticy and fake as a poorly rendered video game.
In truth, this is a wholly forgettable affair that says and does nearly nothing of interest, despite the insane amount of money that has been sunk into it. it is a sad sorry addition in a long line of heartless, vacuous big blockbuster releases but it could have been so much more. From the very first teaser, I was moderately intrigued, solely because this wasn’t the run-of-the-mill live-action remake of a Disney animated feature, it was something new. More than that, it has so much to draw on from the source material but instead we end up with a horrible disappointment and the first Christmas release of the year turns out to be one that seemingly forgets it’s a Christmas film.
2nd November 2018
The Scene To Look Out For:
The Stahlbaum family is made up of five members, one of whom is deceased. But in all honesty, Clara might as well have been an only child or sole survivor as her siblings are afforded zero importance. Her older sister Louise is a young lady trying to keep the household running (and that’s me being generous with that description) and Fritz, an excitable precocious child who acts out but never enough to actually merit talking about. And yet neither of them were considered of enough importance to warrant inclusion in Marie’s fantasy world – the origin and location of which are never actually explained or referenced! The film, is full of these incoherencies that simply hurry the story along to the next unimportant set piece before reaching the hideously trite conclusion that “the answer was inside you all along.”
The exposition of the state of the four realms is depicted to Clara through the medium of ballet. This entire sequence is a real celebration of the craft and is genuinely enjoyable but for a film based on a ballet and one that could have served as a gateway to a different type of theatre experience for young viewers, there simply isn’t nearly enough dancing, which is an absolutely shocking wasted opportunity.
“When you miss someone, you remember them”
In A Few Words:
“A brightly painted but ultimately gaudy hollow tin soldier of a film”