Film Weekly

Pirouetting along

November 6 - 13, 2018

Gulf Weekly Kristian Harrison
By Kristian Harrison

Gulf Weekly Pirouetting along

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms

Starring: Keira Knightley, Mackenzie Foy, Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman

Directors: Lasse Hallström & Joe Johnston

Genre: Fantasy adventure

Rating: PG

RUNTIME: 99 Mins


Ever since the massive success of Pirates of The Caribbean, Disney has been attempting to catch that same live-action lightning in a bottle. Though they’ve had numerous record-breaking smashes within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Star Wars and by raiding their own animated intellectual properties for remakes, they’ve found it hard to recreate the model of a new original franchise with both Tomorrowland and The Lone Ranger failing to grab the attentions of audiences.

The newest original Disney live-action film is the veritable Christmas classic The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, which whilst by no means a great movie has definitely learned some lessons from the studio’s mistakes of the past.

Loosely inspired by the classic ballet The Nutcracker, this reimagining sits somewhere between The Chronicles of Narnia, Alice in Wonderland, and Return to Oz, with a young feisty girl who doesn’t quite fit in with her fancy family and longs for something more.

In that way, MacKenzie Foy’s Clara is just like so many other Disney leading ladies; Belle’s tired of her provincial town, Ariel’s desperate to explore the human world, and (live action) Alice is ready to follow her father’s footsteps and explore the globe. Clara’s motivations though come from the loss of her mother.

On a production level, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is far better than the uninspiring Alice in Wonderland, Cinderella, and Beauty and the Beast remakes. Once the story enters the magical Four Realms, directors Lasse Hallström and Joe Johnston create a decadent, festive landscape that almost feels tangible with more expressive and effective use of practical effects and sets than Disney’s other recent efforts, and it’s a pleasant surprise.

Though as is so often the way, the film does still get lost in giant CGI set pieces that muddy the extravagant world that the film creates. But the overall look and colour palette is definitely an improvement on the flat computer-generated worlds of Oz The Great and Powerful or Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland.

If Oz and Alice are recurring themes here it’s because the story borrows heavily from both. It’s essentially a story about a strong-willed young girl who ends up in a mysterious and enchanting new world which only she can save. Although it shares threads with those classics, the film’s strongest moments are when it veers into the surreal and scary, with some strange sequences incredibly reminiscent of Disney’s Marmite sequel, Return to Oz.

One standout scene occurs as Clara ventures quickly (the film is mercifully short at 100 minutes, which feels refreshing in the face of the bloated running times that fill our cinemas these days) into a forbidden forest, coming across a giant robotic woman whose tented skirts reveal a collection of nesting doll clowns who jump in and out of each other. It’s as strange as it sounds and all the better for it.

You can tell that the film is aiming for a ‘strong female lead’ and ‘diverse cast’ but the reality is that both of those efforts come across as slightly hollow, with Foy still a young, rich, upper class woman who’s strangely obsessed with her father.

And her companion for the film, the titular Nutcracker named Phillip, played with bundles of charm by Jayden Fowora-Knight, is never really given any responsibility of his own.

The film quickly establishes a weird power dynamic between the two, who we’re meant to believe have an instantly organic friendship, as there’s a running joke that Phillip only does what Clara says because in his world she’s royalty, which makes their relationship come across as unbalanced at best.

Helen Mirren is great as always as Mother Ginger, though slightly underused. When she finally shares the screen with Foy they make a really fun pairing, and it’s absolutely fantastic to see Mirren running around and kicking butt whilst wielding a whip.

The movie also criminally underutilises American Ballet Theatre star Misty Copeland, whose appearance is an absolute highlight but remains just that, an appearance, which does potentially invent a new trope ... ballet exposition.

However, the dancing is wonderful and it leaves you wishing that Disney had committed a little more to the ballet aspects. It seems like a missed opportunity to not have Copeland play a larger role or at least make the incredible choreography a little more central to the story.

Ultimately, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is an uneven festive offering brimming with glitter and gaudiness that excels when it embraces its strangeness and the brilliance of the production design.

If you have a child in your life who loves Christmas and ballet, then they’ll probably love this film. If you have an adult with a fear of clowns, definitely don’t invite them to watch this film unless they’ve wronged you deeply.

Now showing in: Cineco, Seef II, Saar, Wadi Al Sail, Avenues


Kristian’s verdict: 3/5

More on Film Weekly