If there ever was a no-brainer in the history of cinema, it would be a Disney-fied version of The Nutcracker at the outset of the holiday season, with ballet goddess Misty Copeland appearing alongside Helen Mirren, Kiera Knightley, and Morgan Freeman. There’s no way the folks at Disney could mess this one up.
Or could they?
Yes. Yes, they could. And they did.
My heavens, how they did.
Alternating between a schmaltzy Victorian drama and an obnoxiously over-the-top trip through a deranged Candy Land, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms may go down as the most disappointing (not to mention calamitous—wow, this thing is going to lose money) misfire of the year.
Though novice screenwriter Ashleigh Powell claims to have based the film on the original 1816 story by E.T.A. Hoffmann, any resemblance to anything you’ve ever seen or heard about The Nutcracker is purely coincidental. Yes, there’s still a young girl who travels to a magical land, but after that, the similarities cease, and not in any way that even comes close to working.
The mopey “real-world” part of the story focuses on young Clara (Mackenzie Foy), whose mother has just died (because, Disney), leaving a forlorn dad (Matthew Macfadyen) to give out her posthumous presents on Christmas Eve. Clara receives a locked silver egg, which leads her to her godfather Drosselmeyer’s basement lair (since he designed the egg), which then results in Clara wandering around outside to look for the key. She instead trips on the Four Realms.
Once there she meets Captain Philip Hoffman (an abysmal Jayden Fowora-Knight), who gives her the lay of the land—three of the realms are at war with the fourth. Why? No clue. The three “good rulers”, including the Sugar Plum Fairy (Knightley), anoint Clara the new Queen of the Realms, since, apparently, her mother was Queen before her death.
Clara wants none of it, though (fitting, since this is around the time the audience will no doubt decide it wants no more of this nonsensical mess); she just wants her egg’s key, but it rests in the clutches of the evil Mother Ginger (Mirren).
From there we get a posse of nightmare-inducing clowns, a Mouse King creepily made from the bodies of thousands of mice, and an army of tin men, who represent the final straw in this woefully misguided derivation from the beloved Nutcracker story.
Co-directed by A Dog’s Purpose’s Lasse Hallström with re-shoots by Captain America: The First Avenger’s Joe Johnston (there’s a combo for the ages), the film does so many things wrong that it’s much easier to just mention the few things that somehow manage to shine through the muck.
Their names are Misty Copeland, Mackenzie Foy, and Helen Mirren. Don’t be fooled, though—Copeland’s presence doesn’t mean anything more than a five-minute ballet panto that does little more than tease the film that might have been. (To make matters worse, we’re teased further by her stunning performance over the closing credits.) Foy, a bona fide talent, will emerge unscathed, as will Mirren. The same, though, can’t be said for Freeman, who sleepwalks his way through his scenes, and Knightley, whose infant-voiced fairy makes The Hunger Games’ Effie Trinket look like a paragon of understated subtlety.
Throughout the movie, I tried to decipher the target age Disney had in mind for this calamity. Kids in the single digits will be traumatized by much of the goings-on, and tweens will join their parents in wondering what the heck has happened to the world’s most loved ballet.
After sitting through it, you may just find yourself wishing you’d simply received a lump of coal for the holidays instead.