Film Review: The Nutcracker And The Four Realms (USA, 2018) is visual eye candy but needs a bit more filling

Disney once again brings a visually sumptuous live action adaptation to the big screen in the the lead up to the festive season. This time loosely taking E.T.A Hoffman’s original ‘The Nutcracker And The Mouse King’ story, and also a ballet by Tchaikovsky, and a novel by Dumas, and putting their own spin on it. Probably veering quite a way aways from the original but that won’t be an issue for young princess-wannabe’s which is who The Nutcracker And The Four Realms is clearly targeted for.

We meet the precocious and clever Clara (Mackenzie Foy) grieving for the recent loss of her mother, and lashing out at her father Mr Stahlbaum (Matthew Macfadyen). When her late mother gifts her a mysterious egg without a key, she seeks assistance from her eccentric godfather Drosselmeyer (Morgan Freeman), and stumbles upon a mysterious wonderland consisting of four realms, separate to the real world. The Land of FLowers, Land of Snowflakes, Land of Sweets and the Fourth Realm. It’s here in the Fourth Realm ruled by the wicked Mother Ginger (Helen Mirren) she must retrieve the key to her egg and bring stability to the realms.

Directed by Joe Johnston and Lasse Hallström this film is the definition of lavish. With luxuriously extravagant costuming and sumptuous set pieces, it truly is wondrous to watch. And even in its darker and creepier moments, such as witnessing the monstrous Mouse King form out of thousands of fellow rodents, or the Babushka doll clowns who are like the roly poly cousins of Pennywise but less vicious. It rarely lets up on the visual eye candy which is probably a good thing since the narrative is lacking a little in substance.

The script by Ashleigh Powell however struggles to really take flight in its 1 hour and 40 minute runtime. We rush from seeing Clara struggling to fit in at home, and angsting towards her father. To her arriving in this Narnia-like kingdom, only to be told she’s a Princess and meant to help save these warring parties. Her focus is just on finding this specific key but sure she’ll help run this monarchy?  There is a wonderfully brief interlude with American Ballet Theatre star Misty Copeland, twirling her way through some exposition whilst composer James Newton Howard puts his spin on the Tchaikovsky score. The emotional crux and through-line of this movie is Clara needing to deal with her grief, as well as respect that those around her are also sharing a similar hurt. This is its strength and heart, and when it takes its moments to focus on this is when it really gets that Disney warm and fuzzy feeling.  

Foy does an admirable job of carrying almost the entire film. Though thankfully both Natalie Portman’s Sugar Plum Fairy and Helen Mirren’s Mother Ginger are highlights for plot reasons which I shan’t spoil. The titular Nutcracker soldier Captain Phillip Hoffman played by Jayden Fowora-Knight is endearing and adorable but it would have been nice to see a more balanced relationship between him and Clara, rather than one based on her position of power and authority (as a Princess) and his of service (a soldier). Macfadyen doesn’t get much to work with, other than channelling his best sad puppy eyes. And Eugenio Derbez and Richard E. Grant are barely recognisable under all their makeup and costumes as Hawthorn ruler of Land of Flowers, and Shiver ruler of Land of Snowflakes respectively.  

The Nutcracker And The Four Realms may be a little light on filling but it’s truly a visual eye candy feast. And younger fans will enjoy both the fascination and fear of being transported to another world.

THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

The Nutcracker And The Four Realms is released in Australian cinemas from 22 November 2018 through Disney Pictures