The Nutcracker and the Four Realms begins with a young girl named Clara (Mackenzie Foy), her siblings, and her grieving father. Having lost her mother, Clara’s family unit is one with broken connections and a lack of understanding. When she receives a present left by her mother that requires a special key, so begins the adventure. After a quick chat with Morgan Freeman’s Godfather she starts to explore the fancy house she’s in, and in a Narnia-esque moment enters the dark of a room and emerges out the other side in a fantastical, winter wonderland. She soon discovers she’s a princess, and that the realms in this land are in danger, so following in her mother’s footsteps, she fulfills her duty and winds up trying to help them avoid war.
It’s a template you can find in countless other films, and it’s paper-thin. The plot A to B’s are so disjointed and lacking in flesh that the film is simply happening to Clara, and there’s no opportunity for diversion. The narrative is so bare you can see its hollow bones stacked on top of each other, trying to create a skeletal foundation for something, anything, to be added on top. Four Realms is so preoccupied with whizzing us to the nearest plot point it totally forgets the innards required to make the colourful world around it feel earned.
With typical live action Disney visuals, there’s a lot to be desired. Flat, untextured backdrops infiltrate the frame, and we are only treated to anything tangible a few times, which is a shame, because when the work is put in the lands are popping with colour and personality. From the Amusement Realm’s fairground aesthetics to the Flower Realm in all its green beauty, there’s some magical moments to reel in the crowds. Sequences injected with notes from the classic music, the creepy clowns occupying the Amusement Realm, and a particularly well done ballet performance are all very nice, but it’s not nearly enough to bear the burden of a far too easy plot.
The performances range from utterly boring to strange and whimsical; Foy’s Clara is a likable young hero with a great mind. She’s awarded a lot of agency but is also treated with compassion without need for patronising. She’s a fine role model for the kids in the audience, and Foy does well while surrounded by more seasoned actors. Keira Knightley’s much talked about Sugar Plum is one of those portrayals so strange it’s hard to tell whether it’s good or not. She certainly steps outside the box, and maybe outside all known reality, but she’s quite wonderful to watch regardless of whether her high-pitched pink-loving character works or not. Everyone else in the film is woefully underused, even Helen Mirren’s Mother Ginger, which doesn’t sting as much as it should given the underwritten material.
It’s a downright shame when a tale aiming for awe-inspiring fantasy is just fine; if it’s bad there’s at least something to point at and talk about, but Four Realms is just fine—because it doesn’t try to be or do anything else other than be fine. There’s no natural progression, connection to the characters, or urgency to save the world it’s set in. Disney’s latest princess story will hold the attention of your little ones without hassle, but it’s doubtful they’ll be anxious to revisit it when they become old enough to understand what feels genuine and what doesn’t.
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