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‘The Nutcracker and the Four Realms’ is a lump of coal

The talents of Mackenzie Foy and Keira Knightley can't redeem "The Nutcracker and the Four Realms" (courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures).

When will Disney learn that reimagining a classic is not always the best move? You’d think even they would know better when said classic is a seminal ballet and Disney wants to make an action-fantasy film. “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms” is an attempt at milking an iconic story for money. In this unnecessary interpretation, a young girl tries to find the missing key to a box left to her by her late mother. In her search, she stumbles into a magical world unlike any other, the Four Realms – the Land of Sweets, the Land of Flowers, the Land of Snowflakes and the Land of Amusements. Three of the realms are being threatened by the fourth, and only Clara, a 13-year-old, can save them. Needless to say, the film is lacking in several areas.

The film’s pacing is one of its worst blunders, indecisively fluctuating between excruciatingly dragged out sequences and incomprehensibly abrupt ones. The plot goes from a confrontation scene directly into an emotional crisis, then to an odd romantic subplot and finally to a major twist, all in the span of 20 minutes. The first act moves at a seemingly stationary pace, repeatedly revealing the most basic information. I grasped in the first five minutes that Clara is a lonely, stubborn girl, but the film bored me by emphasizing that detail again and again. Yet, later in the film,  I found myself alternating between yawning and struggling to understand what happened because it went by too quickly. It’s almost as if they cut out a huge portion of vital scenes later on in the film in order to uselessly extend the exposition. The movie’s pacing just confuses the plot.

However, the biggest flaw in the movie is the absence of developed characters. The main character, Clara, played by Mackenzie Foy, comes across as petulant and hostile, rather than charming and strong. She verbally attacks anyone or anything that gets in her way and blames other people for her own actions. This continues well into the third act when, out of nowhere, she has an epiphany and realizes she’s been a brat. The film does very little to develop Clara as a character, as there is no suggestion of maturation prior to this moment, therefore this revolutionary instance of self-awareness feels unearned. Lasse Hallström and Joe Johnston, the directors, presented a one-dimensional character and expected people to like her just because she is intelligent and capable – two traits that are not enough to craft a fully formed human being. The audience can’t connect to half a person, no matter how smart she is. This is a thread among all the characters — they don’t have real personalities. The Nutcracker is loyal, the Sugar Plum Fairy is kind (sort of), Clara’s widowed father is lonely, but rarely do any of the characters show signs of layers. No one has the complexity of self necessary for interpersonal connection. The plot does not matter because the audience doesn’t care what happens to anyone present. The movie fails at this most basic level, and thus everything else added cannot elevate the movie to greatness or even mediocrity.

One of the only shining moments of the film takes the form of a beautifully done homage to the ballet version of “The Nutcracker.” Misty Copeland is perfectly cast as the lead ballerina, recounting the history of the magical land through a stunning dance. She gracefully weaves through the beautiful sets that represent the four realms of the world, creating an isolated moment of beauty in the film. It captures the essence of the original Nutcracker story: a vibrant interpretation of childhood imagination. This one scene almost makes enduring the rest of the movie worth it.

Although the film boasts an amazing cast, not even Keira Knightley, whose bafflingly shrill accent I could barely endure, nor Morgan Freeman, whose role is entirely too small, could save the film. It is a vivid display of bright colors and intricate sets devoid of substance. The movie’s mistakes damage it to the point of disrepair, resulting in the equivalent of a child’s broken toy: useless and annoying.

The film is simply a hunk of shiny, multicolored plastic meant solely to entice kids into forcing their parents to take them to the nearest theater. It’s an effective strategy preying on children’s attraction to the new and colorful. Hopefully it will be enough to counter the excessive $130 million budget, but it’s unlikely given what a terrible movie this is.

 

Contact Kaycee Branche at kcb22 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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