Mackenzie Foy performs a teen drawn right into a magical parallel world the place she encounters Keira Knightley because the Sugar Plum Fairy in Disney's new tackle the traditional vacation story and beloved ballet.
Disney's try and wrestle E.T.A. Hoffmann's 1816 story and the perennially in style Tchaikovsky ballet right into a fairy story with a contemporary angle is like a type of huge, elaborately adorned, butter cream-frosted muffins that appears scrumptious however could make you fairly in poor health. Something else that The Nutcracker and the Four Realms calls to thoughts is these mechanized vacation division retailer home windows, filled with so many busy parts you possibly can barely take all of them in earlier than some obnoxious child behind you is nudging you to maintain the road transferring. So a lot consideration has been lavished on the splendid visuals that the story and characters are suffocated.
The big-budget fantasy actually paints its share of fairly display photos, and will maintain some enchantment for preteen women, particularly the newborn bunheads with a keenness for the ballet model. But it's a Frankenstein's monster. It lacks the charming charms of Disney's live-action remakes of Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast, or the fabulous distraction of Angelina Jolie that stored the revisionist Sleeping Beauty, Maleficent, semi-entertaining. It's extra like Tim Burton's garish, exhausting Alice in Wonderland and its unwatchable sequel, borrowing parts far and extensive with out ever deciding on what sort of film it desires to be.
The schizoid high quality is maybe not shocking contemplating the incompatible kinds of the 2 filmmakers who share directing credit score. The bulk of it was accomplished by the reliably pedestrian Lasse Hallstrom, earlier than Joe Johnston stepped in for in depth reshoots, presumably to punch up the CG-driven motion. An identical division of duties seems to have occurred with the screenplay, with Hallstrom working from newcomer Ashleigh Powell's unique script and Johnston weaving in further materials by an uncredited Tom McCarthy.
To put it bluntly, the story is a convoluted mess, sometimes inching towards attention-grabbing developments however virtually invariably careening off in some frantic new route earlier than lasting involvement can take maintain. The filmmakers appear conscious that this is a matter, drenching the motion in an virtually nonstop flood of lush music that shuffles Tchaikovsky with James Newton Howard. Oversaturation is the default setting.
The film's greatest asset is younger lead Mackenzie Foy as Clara, a 14-year-old Victorian woman with the sharp logistical thoughts of a budding engineer. She's feisty and decided sufficient to enchantment to up to date sensibilities, but not a lot that she pulls you out of the old-world actuality that grounds the story. And Keira Knightley brings a mischievous campy spirit to the Sugar Plum Fairy, gliding round topped by an upsweep of cotton-candy curls and talking in a breathy, excitable squeak till she reveals her not completely sudden petulant aspect. If the conception of the character owes one thing to Elizabeth Banks' Effie Trinket within the Hunger Games collection, effectively, that's in step with a film that continually recollects superior inspirations. She additionally flutters about on dragonfly wings, similar to Tinker Bell.
In the opening sequence, we're in Harry Potter territory as an owl soars and swoops over Olde London Town, or a principally CG model of it, setting the Christmastime scene a large adorned tree in a public sq.. Clever Clara Stahlbaum and her younger brother Fritz (Tom Sweet) are up within the attic of the household dwelling utilizing toys and the legal guidelines of physics to rig a sophisticated mouse lure, foreshadowing a key plot level afterward.
It's Christmas Eve, and the youngsters's sorrowful, distant father (Matthew Macfadyen) summons them downstairs to current them with items left for them by their not too long ago deceased mom Marie (Anna Madeley). Clara receives an ornate egg-shaped music field with a cryptic word from her mom that reads, "Everything you want is inside." But the field is locked, with no key.
Much of this early setup has a pleasingly old school really feel, with the all the time wonderful Macfadyen suggesting tender emotional depths to be explored. The household's arrival at an annual Christmas Eve ball additionally packs visible splendor as Linus Sandgren's digicam reveals a wide ranging shot of decked out in costume designer Jenny Beavan's spectacular interval finery, whirling round a dance flooring to the romantic strains of "Waltz of the Flowers." But as quickly as Morgan Freeman seems, in acquainted "twinkly-eyed, sensible, benevolent geezer" mode because the night's host, Drosselmeyer, the film's wearying more-is-more aesthetic begins to chafe.
Drosselmeyer, an inventor of fantastical devices, is Clara's godfather. He raised Marie after she was orphaned at a younger age. Rather than simply hand out Christmas items on the ball, he historically units up a treasure-hunt internet of golden threads with the names of every little one attending. Clara's thread leads her to a snow-covered parallel world the place time strikes a lot sooner — cue a number of clockwork mechanisms, a la Hugo. There she finds the music field key, which is promptly snatched by a mouse.
She meets a strategic ally in Captain Phillip Hoffman, a Nutcracker soldier apparently come to life, although you'd hardly realize it from Jayden Fowora-Knight's wood efficiency. Phillip informs Clara that Marie was the queen of the realms, which makes her the princess. He warns her in opposition to following the thieving mouse into the damaging Fourth Realm, however Clara is fearless, even when being pursued by a rodent infestation that assumes the mammoth type of the Mouse King. She additionally has her first brush with the banished Mother Ginger (Helen Mirren), whose fearsome hideout inside an enormous mechanical determine in an enormous high circus-tent robe is straight out of The Wizard of Oz.
Phillip whisks Clara off to the palace from the place the realms are dominated, which manufacturing designer Guy Hendrix Dyas renders as an architectural jumble of Russian exteriors, an Eastern courtyard and commonplace haute European interiors — mirroring the film's total mishmash of kinds. They make their well past a pair of prissy palace guards (Omid Djalili and Jack Whitehall) who bicker like peevish boyfriends in tiresome shtick that falls flat, like a lot of the strained comedy. Clara meets three regents: Hawthorne (Eugenio Derbez) of the Land of Flowers; Shiver (Richard E. Grant), Land of Snowflakes; and Knightley's Sugar Plum, Land of Cavities. I imply Sweets.
Because the filmmakers presumably felt obligated to incorporate the Nutcracker Ballet in some kind, the motion switches into presentational gear. Sugar Plum narrates a danced depiction of the 4 realms, with Misty Copeland pirouetting amongst pop-up Victorian picture-book stage units. Copeland is a chic dancer, however this interlude stops the story lifeless in its tracks, an issue mirrored within the determination to chop away to Clara and Sugar Plum floating above the realms in a hot-air balloon. Clara does study, nevertheless, that the exile of the fourth regent, Mother Ginger, triggered a warfare, and the opposite regents wish to their new princess to cease it. Retrieving the secret's the important thing.
There's so much occurring right here, with a bunch of overqualified actors struggling to make a lot of an impression from beneath their beyond-Baroque make-up and costuming. Grant maybe has the toughest job, caught behind his icicle beard, however no less than he stays considerably restrained, not like Mexican comic Derbez. Watching Mirren do her whip-cracking carnival pirate factor, with the face of a damaged porcelain doll and a crew of creepy clown stooges, ought to be enjoyable. But even when the true villain is revealed and platoons of toy troopers purchase menacing life-size animated kind, the stakes simply by no means really feel very excessive. The story stays stubbornly missing in pleasure or enchantment; it's extra assaultive, to the purpose of turning into boring.
True to the Disney playbook, it's inevitable that Clara will study the requisite classes about protecting her mom's spirit alive, being delicate to her father's loss, believing in magic as a lot as science, and trusting her personal clever instincts in sticky conditions. But Foy's beautiful display presence apart, the human coronary heart of the film will get misplaced amid all of the silliness, schmaltz and feverish but weirdly distancing motion.
Clearly, this was conceived as a status mission, as evidenced by the recruitment of Gustavo Dudamel to conduct the rating and make a short on-camera look (presumably referencing Fantasia), in addition to a featured piano solo by Lang Lang. Then there's the bonus of Copeland once more, dancing on the tip credit with Sergei Polunin. But it could take greater than a whole corps de ballet and full orchestra to breathe class and cohesion into this charmless misfire.
Production firms: The Mark Gordon Company, Walt Disney Pictures
Cast: Keira Knightley, Mackenzie Foy, Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman, Eugenio Derbez, Richard E. Grant, Jayden Fowora-Knight, Matthew Macfadyen, Ellie Bamber, Thomas Sweet, Omid Djalili, Jack Whitehall, Misty Copeland, Sergei Polunin, Anna Madeley
Directors: Lasse Hallstrom, Joe Johnston
Screenwriters: Ashleigh Powell, recommended by the quick story The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, by E.T.A. Hoffmann; and the Nutcracker Ballet, by Marius Petipa
Producers: Mark Gordon, Larry Franco
Executive producers: Sara Smith, Lindy Goldstein
Director of pictures: Linus Sandgren
Production designer: Guy Hendrix Dyas
Costume designer: Jenny Beavan
Music: James Newton Howard
Editor: Stuart Levy
Visual results supervisor: Max Wood
Choreographer: Liam Scarlett
Casting: Lucy Bevan
Rated PG, 99 minutes
This article initially appeared on The Hollywood Reporter.