More than two centuries ago, famed composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky first premiered his now beloved musical work, “The Nutcracker.” In the almost 220 years since it first premiered, it has been adapted into the famed ballet “The Nutcracker Suite” and countless other adaptations on the big and small screen. Some have been okay while others, not quite so. Walt Disney Studios’ latest adaptation — The Nutcracker and the Four Realms — premiered in theaters nationwide late last year and will be released on DVD and Blu-ray on Tuesday. The roughly 90-minute update, which also incorporates elements of author E.T.A. Hoffman’s short story The Nutcracker and the Mouse King is one of the more forgettable takes on the timeless tale of The Nutcracker, even in its home release. The one real positive to this movie is the pacing in its story. This will be discussed shortly. While the movie’s pacing makes it at least bearable, the positives end there. The movie’s story and its look collectively do a lot to detract from the movie’s presentation. They will be discussed a little bit later. The bonus content included in the movie’s upcoming home release can be considered a positive, but it is also a negative to a certain point in itself. It will also be addressed later. Each item noted here is important in its own way to the whole of The Nutcracker and the Four Realms. All things considered, they make this presentation worth at least one watch, but sadly not much more than that.
Walt Disney Studios’ adaptation of author E.T.A. Hoffman’s short story The Nutcracker and the Mouse King and composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s beloved composition that is The Nutcracker is one of the least memorable takes on the noted works. It is worth at least one watch, but sadly not much more than that. One of the movie’s saving graces is its pacing. Not counting end credits, the movie clocks in at approximately 90 minutes, and from start to finish, that run time moves along at a relatively stable speed. Audiences are never left behind nor are they ever left feeling at any point like the movie is dragging. That is a boon for the movie’s presentation, as it does a lot to ensure viewers’ maintained engagement from start to finish. The movie’s creative heads should be thankful for that insurance, considering that audiences will, sadly, be able to get out of the movie faster than slower, especially considering how little the story has to offer them.
Speaking of the movie’s story, this is where The Nutcracker and the Four Realms ultimately fails. This adaptation of Hoffman’s classic tale is a pale shadow of Hoffman’s work, and is formulaic to say the absolute least. It attempts to make up for that approach by incorporating classic Disney elements – throwbacks to Fantasia and the equally disappointing Babes in Toyland are thrown in – in an effort to play to older audiences’ nostalgic tendencies. Adding to the problems, it doesn’t take long for audiences to realize who is the realms’ real villain. One key scene reveals the truth very quickly and blatantly. As if all of this is not enough, the schmaltzy message of finding one’s strength within one’s own self and the whole coming-of-age theme at the very heart of it all, creates a story that is anything but original or even memorable for that matter.
While the story exhibits plenty of problems, it would be unfair to ignore the positives that it exhibits alongside those problematic elements. The presentation of a young female lead who is quite smart, and is driven towards S.T.E.M.-related items is something which audiences (specifically female audiences) will appreciate considering the country’s current gender climate. Having a strong African-American male as the co-lead opposite the intelligent, driven white female will do just as much to make the story appealing to audiences. The use of these elements goes a long way toward making the movie bearable along with its pacing, even considering all of the other problems presented by the story. This is just one more way in which the movie makes itself worth at least one watch. The work of the movie’s costume department – at least in regards to star Keira Knightley – is another positive worth noting.
Knightley is nearly unrecognizable, thanks to the work of the movie’s costume and makeup department. Comparing her look as the Sugar Plum Fairy here to her turn as Elizabeth in Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, one would not even realize it was her playing the fairy if one did not know it was her playing the role. That is a credit, again, to the noted departments’ work.
While the work of the noted departments on Knightley’s look in this movie is to be highly commended, the rest of the movie’s look is another problem. Those who are familiar with Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, its Alice in Wonderland adaptations and its take on Oz The Great and Powerful will find quite a striking similarity in the look of this movie to those works. As a matter of fact, the costumes – which are part of the look – could just as easily be likened to those of Disney’s take on A Wrinkle in Time. On a side note, that movie was quite a disappointment, too, for many reasons. This is important to note because that close similarity creates a feel that little effort was taken to try to give Clara her own world. Clara’s dress and hairstyle strengthen that argument even more. A close look reveals Clara’s blu-ish dress to look quite similar to that worn in Disney’s recent update on Cinderella and even the look of Alice’s dress in Disney’s take of Alice in Wonderland. The blatant near mirror-image of this look to so many of Disney’s other movies – save for Knightley’s look – does little to nothing to enhance the movie’s presentation.
Staying on the item of the movie’s look, the bonus featurette “Unwrapping The Nutcracker and the Four Realms” will generate at least a little bit of appreciation for the time and effort put into the live action/CG world that is that of the Four Realms. The thing is, considering all of that time and effort, the only real standout element other than that of Knightley’s look is the set used for famed ballerina Misty Copeland’s presentation. This featurette will at least create appreciation for the work put into that element. Other than that, it does little else to the positive.
Adding to the problems for the movie’s bonus content is that it is featured only on the Blu-ray disc of the DVD/BD/Digital combo pack. One cannot help but wonder why exactly Disney would go this route if the movie is presented the same way on all three platforms. Why not just feature the same bonus material on all three platforms instead of just the one? This leaves one scratching one’s head.
When one takes into consideration the positives presented by The Nutcracker and the Four Realms and its negatives, the end result proves to be a presentation that leaves audiences wanting so much more, and not in a good way, either. The story is anything but original or memorable. The movie’s look lifts liberally from that of so many previous Disney live action/CG hybrid flicks, presenting the image of a severe lack in original and effort in creating the movie’s world. The largely lacking bonus content, which for whatever reason is presented only on the combo pack’s Blu-ray detracts from the movie’s home presentation even more. Ultimately, these negatives, along with its very limited positives, make The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, the movie in whole proves to be a movie that is worth at least one watch, but likely will not prove to be among the pantheon of the most memorable Christmas movies. The Nutcracker and the Four Realms will be available in stores Tuesday. More information on this and other titles from Walt Disney Studios is available online now at:
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