There is little argument to be made that Disney is the king of family films. Animated or otherwise. But as of late while they have hit their stride on their live-action adaptations of their classic animated catalog like The Jungle Book, Cinderella, and Beauty and the Beast, they almost always seem to falter on existing properties adapted into films, such as Oz the Great and Powerful, The Lone Ranger, The BFG, and A Wrinkle in Time. Granted every so often you get a Pete’s Dragon, but by and large they never seem to hit the mark as they do with their already true tested hits. The Nutcracker and the Four Realms hopes to break through where most do not.
Clara (Mackenzie Foy) and her family are still struggling with the loss of her mother (over 40 Disney movies start or lead with the loss of parents or a parent). As they attempt to give the appearance of moving on they attend a Christmas party where Clara questions her godfather Drosselmeyer (Morgan Freeman) about a mysterious gift her mother left her, a crafted silver egg that can only be opened by a special key. Then while taking part in a gift giving tradition she follows a string tied to a tree towards her gift. But instead she is transported to a magical world where she meets Sugar Plum Fairy (Keira Knightley), the Flower Realm King (Eugenio Derbez), and the Snow Realm King (Richard E. Grant) all of which are terrified of Mother Ginger (Helen Mirren) who wants control of the Four Realms after the death of the queen who it turns out is Clara’s mother. So it is up to Clara and her new friends including Philip the Nutcracker (Jayden Fowora-Knight) to restore balance to the kingdom as well as to learn what her mother’s final wish for her was.
It didn’t take much research and glimpse at the directing credits to see that there may have been some issues in the filming this version of The Nutcracker. There are two directors listed who are not usually billed as a team, that being Lasse Hallström (Chocolat, Hachi: A Dog’s Tale) and Joe Johnston (The Rocketeer, Captain America: The First Avenger). Hallström directed the film with a script by Ashleigh Powell, and Johnston came on for a month of reshoots with a re-write by Tom McCarthy. There seemed to be an attempt to create a blend of The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, and the Narnia films except this film has none of the elements that made those films enjoyable. (Note: When I mention Alice in Wonderland I’m referring to the animated film, not the Burton abominations) None of this did any good as the film has no one clear vision and is an editing nightmare. Things and characters are introduced and later ignored, the CGI is a mess of too much paint splattered on a canvas, and the performances are all over the place. You would think it is in order to conceal dastardly intentions but in point of fact the filmmakers are trying to cover up the fact that this movie was rushed to be meet its release deadline, no matter the condition it was in. Though once Ralph Breaks the Internet, and Marry Poppins Returns close out the year The Nutcracker will have felt like it was released in the dump month of January and forgotten just as quickly.