It’s November in the US which means it is time to start celebrating Christmas, and along with The Grinch, Disney is kicking things off with their new Christmas film Nutcracker and the Four Realms. Based off the hit ballet, Nutcracker is taking a generally story-less tale and turning it into fantasy war epic similar to the 2010 Alice in Wonderland.
I generally dislike that reimagining from Tim Burton, as it tries to turn nonsense into a Lord of the Rings style action film. Now, another director who has made a superhero movie that I really enjoy has come in to do that exact thing with the Nutcracker, and now I ask you to allow me to explain why that did really did not work.
Now, as always I will say what worked and there is some things which do, the biggest of those being the fantastic production design of the film. Returning to the comparison of Alice in Wonderland, Nutcracker has several gorgeous set pieces in both the London scenes and the scenes which take place in the four realms.
The most memorable however would definitely be the castle in the film. The long swirling staircase and the magnificently designed rooms such as the hall where Clara meets the leaders of each realm is wonderfully designed. The costume design is also fantastical with very detailed extravagant gowns and soldier uniforms. Overall, this is the best part of the film.
Now, sadly that is really the only positive of the film, as the only other aspect of the film that isn’t terrible is the acting, which is merely passing. Let me begin to discuss the vast array of negatives Nutcracker has to offer, and the first of those is the visual effects. Now, while I did enjoy the production design, some of the actual effects are just awful. There are two extremely memorable moments where I just dropped my mouth in astonishment of just how bad those visual effects were, those being the leadership hall and Sugar Plum’s wings. With the leadership hall, not only do the low angles in the scene just make the scene feel awkward, they also just look flat out terrible as the CGI put to the backdrops look awful.
However, it is not nearly as awful as the terrible, terrible, visual effects given to the wings. They appear in two scenes, the first also being in that meeting hall. When Sugar Plum made her wings emerge, I nearly laughed out loud it was so shockingly bad. Now, this was a somewhat early scene in relation to the plot, so I nearly forgot about it, that is until maybe 15 minutes before the film ends, in the middle of a huge battle, the wings come out again! Why? Who knows, but whoever did the visual effects really liked those wings, even though Keira Knightley only looks more ridiculous with them.
Another thing I want to discuss is the storytelling of the film. Nutcracker is a whopping 99 minutes long, with only about 70 in the actual four realms to discuss the war that is going on. The story moves in an incredibly quick pace that skips over major character development, especially with a villain, to make a movie that has the storytelling of a super high budget Disney Channel Original Movie.
The trailers presented something that looked like it could be a very magical and enchanting world, but we don’t get enough time to spend in it. This is all capped off with an incredibly rushed final battle where we never feel the stakes of the film since we don’t care about the characters or what they are fighting for.
Speaking of the characters, it is time for me to bring up the worst part of the film, that being the character development, or lack thereof. The main character, Clara, is an imitation of Alice in the Tim Burton Alice in Wonderland with her “being different and wanting more” and falling into a whole magical world, but she is the most fleshed out. When it comes to who has the least amount, you have an entire smorgasbord of contenders, including but not limited to all of the leaders of the realms with Sugar Plum, Mother Ginger, Shiver, and Hawthorne, the latter two maybe receiving a combined 3 minutes of screentime.
Other possible champions of that coveted award include Philip, the sidekick to Clara who is the most boring character of the film in terms of dialogue and design, Drosselmeyer, the stereotypical old grandfather mentor, and the favorite to win, Mr. Stahlbaum, father to Clara who I’m surprised was in 3D, because his character was pretty much just a cardboard cut out of dad tropes. For all film epics, they need to have a memorable cast of characters like Star Wars or Harry Potter, and Nutcracker falls flat on its face in that department.
So, you may be able to guess that I didn’t like the film that much, and I didn’t. Now, it is perfectly harmless for young children and if you put it on for a 3 year old they would be entertained. However, you could put on Sin City and I imagine they would still watch it, so that isn’t saying much.
All in all, I think that this movie theoretically could work if given a proper script that could keep something of a nonsensical tone with a cohesive narrative, and I was super excited from this movie based off of the first teaser trailer which did exactly that. It had the sense of wonder that I wanted and the epic scale that the movie aimed for and ultimately missed.
As much as I wanted to see this movie succeed, and maybe a sequel could perhaps make it work by going further in depth with the world, the horrendous CG, the awful story, and the lacking character development make it so that is most likely not in the realm of possibility.