I love the moment the lights dim, the curtain widens and the movie starts. Going to the cinema is one of life's great activities and should be enjoyed as much as possible.
Published November 30th 2018
Follow the white rabbit, I mean, long piece of string
The fantasy genre can be a tough nut to crack. Many films over the years have come and gone and perished at the box office in the process. I feel the fantasy genre, with so much suspension of disbelief is required from the audience, requires only a few small elements that don't quite work, and the whole film falls apart for the audience. From very early on in the movie, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms shows plenty of cracks, thanks principally to terrible dialogue and lacklustre storytelling.
Disney hasn't had the best year. Despite the success of the Marvel and Pixar films, the types of films Disney was built on, aren't working for them. Both the Nutcracker and A Wrinkle in Time cost a lot of money to produce fairly empty cinema seats. Their second successive Star Wars disappointment (Solo) also hit their finances, so 2018 won't go down as one of their best years, despite Avengers Infinity War.
With an official run time of just 99 minutes (which must include a very long credits sequence, because the film was much shorter than 99 minutes), the film required two directors. Both directors have some credibility, with Lasse Hallstrom known for What's Eating Gilbert Grape (1993), The Cider House Rules (1999) and Chocolat (2000) whilst Joe Johnston is a little less distinguished with Captain America: the First Avenger (2011) and Jurassic Park 3 (2001).
We follow the story of Clara (Mackenzie Foy) who, after her mother has died, discovers that her mother was the queen of a magical land that she built and now it's time for Clara to come and save the realms from the evil Mother Ginger (Helen Mirren). It's all a bit familiar I'm afraid and the film does little to counter that.
The film feels like Narnia and Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland were put in a blender and whilst I wasn't a fan of either of those films, they at least had a feeling that this was a big new world for our characters to explore. The four realms in this don't feel particularly big or magical and fail to inspire much wonder. We barely see any of the realms, apart from a quick montage of our main character Clara going on a short tour. The story is confined to a small section of a snowy forest, a foggy amusement park and a CGI castle. Few characters appear along the way, and whilst some of the visuals are impressive, its nothing that many other films haven't brought to the screen before. There's the occasional ballet moment to remind us that this is 'The Nutcracker', and the best aspect of the film is clearly the score by James Newton Howard, adapting Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker Suite.
The cast is a disappointment, despite the immense talent on hand. Morgan Freeman coasts through his few scenes that bookend the film. His ridiculous hair and eye patch do not help matters and he feels like a teacher at dress up day at the local primary school during book week. Also, we get very little explanation of who his character really is and why he is so knowledgeable about the realms. Helen Mirren looks embarrassed by her character's dialogue and gives a very bland and disinterested performance. This is such a shame, as Mirren is always fantastic. But if Mirren and Freeman are coasting, Keira Knightley stole the show, giving a terribly over the top performance as Sugar Plum, acting mostly like a toddler throwing a tantrum.
Kids may enjoy the film, although I think many will not be swept away by the story and parents will be thankful the film only really goes for about 89 minutes at best (the film started at 7:20pm and we were halfway home by 9pm). With so many other films in the cinema at the moment, The Nutcracker will be unlikely to linger, so if you are considering taking the kids, don't wait for the school holidays to start.