One look at Disney’s The Nutcracker and the Four Realms will instantly remind one of their earlier Alice in Wonderland and Oz: The Great and Powerful, where the Mouse took classic children’s novels and added armour, swordplay and prophecies to disappointing results. The films boasted excellent, jaw-dropping scenery and some entertaining performances but were ultimately empty and forgettable, with The Nutcracker and the Four Realms being little different.
Nutcracker is slightly better than the aforementioned Alice and Oz, however, especially when it comes to source material. If you’re going to make an epic fantasy out of a children’s favourite, ETA Hoffman’s The Nutcracker and the Mouse King makes more sense than Wonderland and Oz, given that there were battles and grudges in there already (even if the ultimate fight between the two title characters takes place off-screen). Unlike Alice and Oz, Nutcracker is not a sequel or a prequel but a reimagining, so it’s a little easier to judge it on its own rather than against its source material.
That said, fans of the novel may be disappointed in some of the choices made. Mouserinks in the film may steal a key and call upon an army of mice to form a giant mouse, but is not as interesting or memorable as her novel counterpart; the evil mother of the Mouse King who curses a princess with ugliness and made the Nutcracker what he was in the first place. Speaking of the Mouse King, while a giant mouse made up of smaller mice is a good idea, a large, seven-headed monstrous mouse would have been more welcome.
The Nutcracker and the Four Realms seems to have several influences other than the novel and the ballet, so you’ll also find a bit of Babes in Toyland, Narnia and even Frankenstein in this film, which sadly make the script feel disjointed and the world feel less real. A shame because, once again, the world created for this film looks marvellous. Despite the film’s title, we only spend a little time in realms other than the sinister “Fourth Realm”, which perfectly captures that cliché that refuses to die: the haunted abandoned amusement park. It is so beautifully sinister it almost justifies the too-close-to-Halloween-for-a-Christmas-film release date.
The cast is a mixed bag. Morgan Freeman was the perfect choice to play Drosselmeyer, but sadly, we do not see much of him. Keira Knightley, in a role that takes influence from Glinda the Good Witch, is a delight to watch, but Mackenzie Foy, playing heroine Clara, sleepwalks through the role, making it hard to care about the story and her adventure.
The Nutcracker and the Four Realms provides some entertainment and some interesting, surreal visuals, but don’t expect anything you haven’t seen before.