Sunday, November 4, 2018


Disney's newest live-action fantasy is The Nutcracker and the Four Realms. This movie has everything. A teenage girl (Mackenzie Foy) getting a locked bejeweled egg for Christmas as a present left behind by her recently deceased mother. Morgan Freeman sending her on a magical adventure. (He's wearing an eyepatch, making mechanical toys, and twinkling with grandfatherly wisdom.) A magical world half-Oz and half-Wonderland inside an enormous clock the girl enters in a Narnia-like fashion while searching for her egg's key. Four warring Realms built out of steampunk candy and leftover Burtonish production design ruled by the likes of Eugenio Derbez covered in flowers and Richard E. Grant covered in snow and icicles hanging like frozen snot off his face. Keira Knightley with cotton candy hair, Tinkerbell wings, and a squeaky Lina Lamont voice. Helen Mirren as a dastardly clockwork circus villain with roiling masses of mice and a nesting doll of balloony henchmen who seem to have rolled out of a Return to Oz deleted scene. A cheerfully subservient black soldier (Jayden Fowora-Knight) who is given permission to self-actualize by a white authority figure over which he continues to fawn. Ballerina Misty Copeland in lovely, if abbreviated, excerpts from the original Nutcracker ballet introduced with a Fantasia-inspired silhouette orchestra. A non-stop score slathered over everything that slips sweetly between Tchaikovsky and Tchaikovsky-esque. Rows of CG soldiers amassing here and there. Comic relief bit parts for which no one wrote actual jokes. A hero journey plot so generic and rote the movie itself hardly believes it. An overblown yet dull hectic adventure climax that not only fails to satisfy on its own, but somehow drains the magic inherent in its source material so it's nothing more than one part gentle whimsy one part mindless cacophony. Reshoots so extensive both the original director Lasse Hallstrom and studio fixer Joe Johnston get directing credits. A chipper smart-STEM-girls through-line. An opening swoop through late-1800's London that's close to the one that opens Robert Zemeckis's excellent Christmas Carol. And over the end credits: Andrea Bocelli.

It's a mess. At first I liked the baroque decorative design and charming eccentricity. But the more it sputtered along into banalities and inanities my attention well and truly drifted. Why all the effort to do something so clunky and routine with a famous ballet, blowing it out to fit awkwardly in the trend of live-action action-adventure fairy tales? Why not just make a big-budget ballet movie, a faithful and simple adaptation, and save yourselves the trouble, Disney? You'd think that'd be hard to mess up. Instead the movie is both overproduced and under-imagined, over-complicated and under-thought, with genuine enchantment and sentiment replaced by cliche and hollow artifice. What a missed opportunity.

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