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Awesome: 11.11%
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1 review, 3 user ratings

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Nutcracker and the Four Realms, The
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Don't Try So Hard"
1 stars

Over the years of my existence, I have seen more permutations of the holiday favorite “The Nutcracker,” ranging from readings of the original E.T.A. Hoffmann short story “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” to several live productions of the ballet adaptation staged by legendary choreographer Ruth Page to more film versions than I care to recall, including a clinically insane 2010 take that somehow managed to work Nazis, Albert Einstein (played by Nathan Lane, no less) and the augmentation of Tchaikovsky’s legendary music with lyrics by the slightly less immortal Tim Rice and then presented it in exceptionally ugly 3-D to boot. I must confess that I have never particularly cared for the story, regardless of the format—my favorite version is probably the one they did on “SCTV” in which they used it as a framework to skewer the increasingly hacky stylings of a certain comedic genius in an elaborate film parody entitled “Neil Simon’s Nutcracker Suite”—but I have seen enough of them to tell when one isn’t working for me just because of my general antipathy towards the material (such as the Ruth Page productions, which I dutifully attended as family events because my younger brother, perhaps inevitably, adored it) and when one is working because it is just bad. Until now, I would have named that aforementioned version that included Nazis and Einstein (and which also included John Turturro as the Mouse King, as I recall) as the impossible-to-beat nadir but now that I have seen “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms,” I have to admit that we have a new winner for that deeply dubious title. At least with the one with Einstein, it was of such a screw-loose what-could-they-have-been-thinking? badness that it compelled you to watch, if only to see how much more frothing mad it could get. This one, on the other hand, is such a misshapen lump of ham-fisted “fun” that the mere act of sitting through it becomes actively painful after a while—imagine having a three-ton gumdrop sitting on your lap for 90-odd minutes and you can only begin to fully conjure the horror that this movie inspires.

If you are somehow not familiar with the story in any of its previous forms, you are in luck because most of it has been thrown out the window by screenwriter Ashleigh Powell for a narrative that owes more to the likes of Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland,” the “Narnia” and Harry Potter films and all the other screen sagas in recent years in which seemingly ordinary kids discover that only they have the unique powers needed to save the world from some grave, if ill-defined, threat. This one begins on Christmas Eve with super-clever Clara (Mackenzie Foy) in a funk over the prospect of enduring her first Christmas since the death of her mother with a father () and siblings () who don’t seem to understand her pain. Dad presents each of them with a gift picked out for them by Mom before she suffered her fatal plot device and Clara’s turns out to be an egg-shaped trinket requiring a key to unlock it that is nowhere to be found. Luckily for her, the egg was designed by the brilliant inventor and family friend Herr Drosselmeyer (Morgan Freeman), whose lavish Christmas party she is attending that night.

For reasons too contrived to go into, this leads to her unexpectedly landing in the Four Realms, a magical land of whimsy and delight and familiar actors enduring ridiculous costumes in exchange for hopefully hefty paychecks where Clara’s mother evidently once ruled as queen until she mysteriously left. Anyway, Clara and her new-found friend, a steadfast and loyal soldier named Phillip (Jayden Fowora-Knight), make their way to the realm ruled by the eternally chirpy Sugar Plum (Keira Knightley) who informs Clara of her regal past and brings her up to speed on what has been going on. It seems that Clara’s key has fallen into the hands of the nefarious Mother Ginger (Helen Mirren. . . yes, Helen Mirren), whose realm is in conflict with the other three and who is apparently mustering the strength to destroy all the other worlds. The only way to save the day is for Clara to muster the courage to sneak over to Mother Ginger’s realm and retrieve the key to save the day. As it turns out, things are a little more complicated than that but suffice it to say, by the time it all comes to a merciful end, lessons will have been learned, tears will have been shed, people will have come to terms with things and tons of CGI gimcrackery will have been deployed. Oh yeah, there is even a smattering of actual ballet to be had, though one ill-timed trip to the concession stand or washroom may cause you to miss it entirely.

One of the recurring motifs of the film is the way that it celebrates the beauty of a perfectly-designed mechanism that has been created to perform its duties with absolute precision. This quickly proves to be ironic since the film itself is some kind of haphazardly designed contraption in which you are always watching the gears trying to achieve some kind of effort before eventually collapsing from the sheer strain of the effort. The film was directed by two filmmakers of some note—Lasse Hallstrom and Joe Johnston—which is weird because there is not a single moment in the film that feels as if it was guided by actual human hands. You can practically hear the brain trust at Disney whispering to the filmmakers to add all the additional nonsense to the mix in order to give them the kind of four-quadrant hit that every studio hopes to find under their tree ever Christmas. The problem is that this is a story that simply isn’t strong enough to stand up under the weight of all the rejiggering and “improvements” and it ends up in a continual state of collapse. Take the character of Clara, for example. Because of the success of films like “Alice in Wonderland” and “The Hunger Games,” it was perhaps inevitable that she, who was ordinary enough in the original story (even as she evidently caught the eye of that creep Drosselmeyer), would have to be reconfigured as someone who was smarter, wiser, kinder and braver than everyone else practically from the get-go in order to appeal to the ever-growing young female audience. In theory, I have no problem with that—the more strong female characters that can appear in films and books aimed at all younger audiences, the better—but the flaw here is that you never buy her as an actual person—she seems as mechanically constructed and essentially lifeless as one of the tin soldiers that dominate the proceedings in the second half. Lacking any sort of human element to latch onto, the film just devolves into an endless string of overproduced scenes featuring CGI creations moving around frantically in an effort to convince viewers that something is happening to the turn of compositions by James Newton Howard that are perhaps slightly less memorable than those originally supplied by Tchaikovsky.

Speaking of less than memorable, Mackenzie Foy, as Clara, is pleasant enough but ultimately as devoid of any real spark of her life as any of her surroundings—even though she is supposed to be the center of the story, she is so inconsequential at times that it is easy to forget her entirely even when she is right up there on the screen. As for her better-known co-stars, they are admittedly more memorable but for all of the wrong reasons. Keira Knightley is one of my favorite actresses but her performance her as the Sugar Plum Fairy is so grotesquely conceived and executed that it is almost impossible to believe that it is actually her—I would say that her turn here would seem more at home at the porno ripoff version of this film except for the fact that even a porn director would have taken one listen at the painfully shrill and cutesy-wutesy manner of talking she utilizes here and asked her to come up with something better. For his part, at least Morgan Freeman still sounds like Morgan Freeman but he coasts through his brief appearance in a manner that makes his TV commercial voiceovers seem focused and committed by comparison. Helen Mirren is an actress who can usually bring some kind of life, at least during her scenes, to even the worst films—she appeared in freaking “Caligula” and still managed to bring something to that infamous mess—but all she can muster here is the kind of stricken look that befalls an actor who has pretty much figured out that they are in a botch of massive proportions but are powerless to do anything to extricate themselves from the situation. (Also, between this and the recent “Collateral Beauty,” I fear we must now declare a moratorium on all end-of-year releases of a vaguely fantasy-like nature co-starring Knightley and Mirren.) However, the most bewildering member of the cast has to be Richard E. Grant, who turns up under blessedly heavy disguise as Shiver, the leader of the Land of Snowflakes—not so much for his presence as much as the fact that, if I recall correctly, he also appeared in that aforementioned “Nutcracker” with the Nazis and Einstein and therefore hold the dubious distinction of turning up in the two most bizarrely awful “Nutcracker” films imaginable.

“The Nutcracker and the Four Realms” is a marzipan-choked nightmare that takes the very elements that have appealed to so many audiences and launched so many would-be ballet careers over the years—the dancing and the sweet romance between Clara and the Nutcracker—and all but removes them from the proceedings in order to replace them with things that might have more appeal to a wider audience—i.e. boys. (Famed ballerina Misty Copeland turns up to dance for a minute or so in the middle and during the end credits while Clara and the Nutcracker Prince are now basically pals, hopefully not because the latter is played by a black actor.) Like such other overstuffed and overblown adaptations of faded children stories as the live-action versions of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” and “The Cat in the Hat,” the delicacies of the original material has been ruthlessly stomped upon and transformed into the kind of garish garbage that wins a week or two at the box office before thankfully disappearing from the collective memory. Put it this way. If you take your kids to only one film this season that is loosely inspired by a well-known story and which deals in part with ballet dancing, make it the remake of “Suspiria”—it is slightly less creepy than this and contains far more dancing to boot.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=31595&reviewer=389
originally posted: 11/01/18 09:36:39
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User Comments

7/07/19 Dr. Lao Proof that good family movies do not need fart jokes 4 stars
11/03/18 Louise Incredible fantasy film-making of the highest order, better than The Wizard of Oz ! ! !. 5 stars
11/01/18 Hakon noreback One of the most incredibly bad films I have ever seen! My daughter and I laughed hysterical 1 stars
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  02-Nov-2018 (PG)
  DVD: 29-Jan-2019


  DVD: 29-Jan-2019

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