Film review: 'The Nutcracker', a Mixed Review
When Ernst Theodor Wilhelm Hoffman and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky premiered ‘The Nutcracker and the Mouse Solider’ in 1892, critics described it as lopsided, confusing and insipid. Surely they could not have expected it would outlive these criticisms and remain as one of the most popular ballets over a century later. Nor could the writers have predicted that a giant, robotic Helen Mirren would one day fight an army of tin soldiers in a blockbuster adaptation of their story.
Directed by Lasse Hallstrom (What's Eating Gilbert Grape, A Dogs Purpose) and Joe Johnston (Captain America, Jumanji) The Nutcracker and the Four Realms depicts the classic ballet as a visual epic. We follow angsty mouse-trap enthusiast Clara (Mackenzie Foy) who, while searching for the key to her late mother’s Christmas gift, accidentally wanders into a magical world on the brink of war between a misplaced Helen Mirren and an irritating Keira Knightley.
The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is the greatest documentation of visual excess I have ever seen. This is its greatest strength. The film is technically breathtaking and Disney have clearly pulled no punches in sculpting it. The pacing is precise; the soundtrack is tranquil; the gorgeous, grim and occasionally exuberant landscapes and costumes are beautifully captured by cinematographer, Linus Sandgren’s Academy Award-Winning eye.
Like cracking open a rotting pistachio nut, however, there’s not much joy beneath the surface here. Clara’s journey through the titular Four Realms (three of which we visit only within a montage) is supposedly one of self-discovery. While she ultimately does learn not to bully her widowed father for hiding his grief, this transition is as smooth as chunky peanut butter. Nutcracker pretends to have a theme of loss and acceptance. But, while protagonist and antagonist are ostensibly two sides of the same coin – dealing with their grief through sympathy and hostility, respectively – it is hardly ever acknowledged.
This adaptation is as far removed from the original ballet as a peanut M&M is from the soil. The stage production certainly did not contain thousands of living mice fusing together into a single monster and marching through a haunted forest. Nor did it contain the aforementioned giant robot warfare. But the film does. And for this I am truly thankful. Though it’s almost certainly unintentional, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms channels the gleeful, guilty-pleasure visuals and set-pieces of a Spy Kids film, fusing grim and terrifying imagery (never forget the Fooglies) with over-the-top action that doesn’t drag on or cause any detriment to the film. This is important because the rest of The Nutcracker contains more than enough detrimental aspects to bring it to its knees.
The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is visual excess without any reason; a gleeful and colorful display with a hollow interior befitting its own tin soldiers. But, much like with tin soldiers, young children and those looking to be distracted for a few hours can probably find some entertainment here.
2 Stars out of 5
Header Image: Disney Enterprises, Inc.