“The Nutcracker” needs no introduction, seeing as Disney has been in the business of remaking properties that are familiar to most everyone. That’s because sameness is profitable: people pay for familiar stories, so Disney stands to make a lot of money from churning them out. The house of mouse has slowly been transforming into a fearsome mega-corporation bent on dominating the film industry—Disney has bought out Pixar, Marvel Entertainment, Lucasfilm, and recently acquired 21st Century Fox for $71.3 billion. The ever-present fear is that Disney will homogenize all these studios’ movies, sapping them of artistic integrity and keeping everything familiar. If “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms” is any indication, we should be very afraid.
“The Four Realms” is inspired by E. T. A. Hoffman’s short story “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” and Tchaikovsky’s famous ballet “The Nutcracker”, but its narrative doesn’t follow either of those works. Disney made the baffling decision to ditch its source material in favor of a story that doesn’t have an original bone in its body. There is no idea in this movie that hasn’t been done a hundred times already—it’s a bundle of clichés and special effects masquerading as “The Nutcracker”.
The banality begins with young Clara (Mackenzie Foy) and her brother building a contraption to catch a mouse. As the trap’s mechanics kick into action, Clara explains each step as it unfolds on screen, which turns out to be a good primer for how the whole movie operates—leaving nothing to the imagination. After a few scenes that unsubtly scream “THEIR MOTHER IS DEAD”, Morgan Freeman shows up to collect his paycheck and help Clara discover the entrance to the Four Realms.
When Clara walks through the magical portal into a fantastical world, she reacts with all the wonderment of someone walking from their living room to their bedroom. Mackenzie Foy’s performance is dreadfully wooden: she has the emotional range of a miscast lead in a high school Shakespeare production. Foy should act like she’s seeing a new world for the first time, but instead she resembles the audience—we’ve seen these visual effects before and they’re no longer surprising. Some of Disney’s previous live-action remakes justified their existence by telling a timeless story with groundbreaking effects, but “The Four Realms” offers little in the way of visual splendor. It bears no artistic signature, and some moments were apparently too detailed to bother rendering.
Foy may not be entirely to blame for her wooden performance, as the rot really stems from the core of the screenplay. “The Four Realms” is so unoriginal that it’s downright torturous. It features a worn out symbol of empowerment that’s been used in countless kids’ movies, it has the same old plot twist that Disney has used over and over again, and the story is punishingly predictable. Some unoriginal elements aren’t even carried to full term blandness: there are two physically opposite, bumbling soldiers (one is skinny and tall, one is fat and short) that volunteer to fight in the war against the fourth realm, and are subsequently never seen fighting. “The Four Realms” can’t even get trite right.
The only recommendable part of this movie is Keira Knightley’s performance—she has a lot of fun being over the top as the Sugar Plum Fairy, and her lively efforts deserve a better movie. Well, there’s also a fine ballet performance at one point, but it just makes you want to leave the theater and see the ballet instead. As it stands, “The Four Realms” is worse than a lazy excuse to hear the iconic “Nutcracker” songs: it’s a monument to Disney’s sins.