The Dis­ney hol­i­day film falls flat

Shanghai Daily - - FILM - Mark Kennedy

So Dis­ney has gone ahead and made a Christ­mas movie from “The Nutcracker.” “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms” is vis­ually mar­velous, in­con­sis­tently acted and rather in­co­her­ent in that fan­tasy genre way. There’s a lot of stuff go­ing on here so hold onto your pop­corn. The story is based on E.T.A. Hoff­mann’s orig­i­nal 1816 tale, “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King,” which went on to be­come a cel­e­brated bal­let with stir­ring mu­sic by Tchaikovsky.

Screen­writer Ash­leigh Pow­ell has spun a tale of a spunky and brainy 14-year-old Clara who adores elab­o­rate gear mech­a­nisms and quotes New­ton’s Third Law. One mo­rose Christ­mas, she gets a present from her late mother that sends her on a quest to the Land of Snowflakes, the Land of Flow­ers, the Land of Sweets and the Land of Hokum — that last one is the omi­nous Fourth Realm, which is over­run by ro­dents and fog and de­mented Cirque du Soleil per­form­ers.

Clara must unite all th­ese di­vi­sive par­al­lel worlds in time to re­turn to her sad fam­ily. There are el­e­ments of Lara Croft, “The King and I” and “The Chron­i­cles of Nar­nia” here, and it’s safe to say the whole film would fall apart if not for a bril­liant per­for­mance from Macken­zie Foy as Clara.

Soft, an­gry, ten­der, pained and re­gal — Foy is ab­so­lutely lu­mi­nous, both a tomboy and a princess. She speaks through her eyes and re­ally digs into lines like “The real world doesn’t make sense any­more.”

The rest of the cast is un­even, to put it po­litely this Christ­mas pe­riod. Keira Knight­ley as the Sugar Plum Fairy seems to have mod­eled her char­ac­ter on Eliz­a­beth Banks’ role in “The Hunger Games” but thought the other ac­tress was un­der­play­ing it and so has brought twice as much ir­ri­tat­ing en­ergy. There’s also He­len Mirren, who por­trays the leader of the Fourth Realm with such a swash­buck­ling style that she’s missed when not on screen. Plus, poor Mor­gan Free­man tries to bring dig­nity to Clara’s god­fa­ther, but he’s had bet­ter lines in commercials.

Di­rec­tors Joe John­ston and Lasse Hall­strom also called on Misty Copeland, prin­ci­pal dancer for Amer­i­can Bal­let Theater, to play the main doll in a bal­let within the movie, which was a wise move.

But other poor de­ci­sions mar the film, in­clud­ing dress­ing Eu­ge­nio Der­bez and Richard E. Grant in over-the-top cos­tumes and telling them to act as if they just snorted a case of Snick­ers bars. And there’s a mo­ment late in the film when you re­al­ize that some of the best act­ing has been de­liv­ered by a dig­i­tal mouse.

The real stars of this film are the hun­dreds and hun­dreds — sit through the cred­its and mar­vel at the num­ber — of vis­ual ef­fects folk who have let us swoop over th­ese snowy cities and forests on the wings of a bird, who use thou­sands of wrig­gling mice to come to­gether to make one big Mouse King, and who make a le­gion of tin sol­diers march­ing look pos­i­tively fright­en­ing.

And the lush or­ches­tra­tions of Tchaikovsky, with sec­tions re­peated in dif­fer­ent styles, show off this clas­sic work well.

Dis­ney has po­ten­tially opened the door with a se­quel if this one suc­ceeds. But, to be frank, it rather limps to the goal line: Clara’s re­la­tion­ship with the nutcracker sol­dier ends chastely and she of­fers a vague prom­ise to re­turn — hope­fully with an act­ing coach — to the land of sweets, flow­ers and snowflakes. But take your time, Clara. Don’t rush on our be­half.

Keira Knight­ley (left) and Macken­zie Foy in “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms”

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