The Nutcracker and the Four Realms might be visually beautiful, but the film's story falls apart, and the characters are uninteresting with murky motivations.
Directors: Lasse Hallström and Joe Johnston
Summary: A young girl is transported into a magical world of gingerbread soldiers and an army of mice.
The Nutcracker ballet is a classic, with music that most people know right away. If you're a child who has taken ballet classes, it's likely you've performed in The Nutcracker at least once or twice. It's fundamental to the Christmas season, and it appears that Disney is trying to bring a version of that to people to watch at home during the holiday season. However, the exectution of this film version largely falls short.
A good point of comparison to this film is the Tim Burton version of Alice in Wonderland. That movie also took on a tale that has an uncomplicated story. Alice sees weird stuff. In this case, Clara watches a ballet after saving the Nutcracker from a fight, and it becomes a "good against evil" battle. It's not exactly the most unique angle to take, but The Nutcracker and Four Realms seems to want to make up for this unoriginality by making the world as original as possible.
However, there is only so much one can do when the characters aren't that compelling. Mackenzie Foy does her best to give Clara motivation and personality, but it feels a little forced. This is the second time Disney has given their heroine an inventor subplot, but unlike Belle's in the recent Beauty and the Beast, Clara's does pay off. Mostly. Jayden Fowora-Knight gets the shortest stick as Phillip the Nutcracker Captain. Nearly everything he does feels as wooden as the toy he is based on. As for Keira Knightley, she certainly gives her all with the role, but as far as odd character motivations go she is likely the worst. Helen Mirren is criminally underused as Mother Ginger, though she at least appears to be having fun whenever she is on screen.
The movie has two directors, with Lasse Hallström doing the initial run and Joe Johnston coming in to do significant reshoots. The movie can feel a little schizophrenic as far as tone and style, which likely comes from the duel points of view. Those with a phobia of rats should likely stay far away, as the Rat King is here portrayed as a bunch of rats forming one giant monster. That and some of Mother Ginger's henchpeople, that look like Russian Dolls mixed with a clown, give the movie some scary moments mixed in with all of the a world made of candy.
Where this movie succeeds is in costume and set design. There isn't a moment of this movie that doesn't look like a work of art. The work that went into making the various lands, even if we don't spend nearly enough in them, is frankly awe inspiring. The little details that go into making each of these lands look unique — not just in housing but in the way that every single person is dressed — is beautiful. The various costumes that each character wears are also rather stunning. Clara gets a couple of dresses but her soldier uniform is probably the best. The Sugar Plum Fairy's dress looks beautiful and they even tuff her hair to make it look like cotton candy.
Fans of the ballet will be glad see Misty Copeland's performance, as the movie uses ballet as a form of exposition. The scene is, unfortunately, not nearly long enough, but Copeland is a stunning dancer and you cannot look away while she is on screen. We get to see a little more of her over the credits as she performs another piece.
The Nutcracker and the Four Realms might be visually stunning, but between the script issues, some questionable acting choices, and character motivations that make virtually no sense, it is a production that cannot sustain on visuals alone. It is beautiful, but much like the candy in the world of sweets it is also completely disposable.