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The Nutcracker and the Four Realms
Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
4K UHD Released: 1/29/2019
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 1/24/2019
Disney has a really weird history when it comes to their live-action films. The 1960s and 1970s were the heyday for the studio, but it also saw an odd combination of releases. Of course, they all fall under the umbrella of “family film”, but the level of goofiness varies. The best-known movies from this era are probably entries from The Love Bug series. Since that time, the studio has continued to release live-action movies, but their animated creations have definitely taken the lead. In the recent past, we’ve seen a new slew of releases which are remakes of animated classics, such as The Jungle Book and Beauty and the Beast. In addition to this, Disney has also been re-visiting some other classics. Early 2018 saw the release of A Wrinkle in Time, based on a beloved novel. Now, Disney puts a new spin on a timeless ballet in The Nutcracker and the Four Realms.
It’s Christmastime in Victorian London, and Clara (Mackenzie Foy) is to attend an elaborate party at the home of her godfather, Drosselmeyer (Morgan Freeman). But, just before she leaves, Clara’s father (Matthew Macfadyen), gives her a gift from her late mother. It’s a golden egg, which has a keyhole. Once at the party, Clara find a key (which could fit the egg), but it’s stolen by a mouse, whom Clara chases into a strange, snowy land. She meets a nutcracker soldier named Phillip (Jayden Fowora-Knight). Upon learning Clara’s name, he explains that her mother once ruled this land, and since her departure, it has fallen into turmoil. Clara meets some of the authorities in the land, such as Sugar Plum (Keira Knightley), and learns that Mother Ginger (Helen Mirren) is attempting to take over the realm. Thus, Clara agrees to join forces with the others and help save this strange world.
To say that The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is an adaptation of the famous ballet by Tchaikovsky would somehow be an understatement and an overstatement. The story here keeps some of the principle characters (Clara, Drosselmeyer, The Nutcracker, Sugar Plum, and Mother Ginger) and the idea that Clara visits a magical world. However, some of the characters are given new personalities or motivations and the second half of the movie greatly diverges from the ballet and creates a completely new story. The Nutcracker has been adapted many, many times over the years, so there’s nothing wrong with putting a new spin on the story. I’m usually a big fan of these sort of re-imaginings. And with veteran Directors Lasse Halstrom and Joe Johnston at the helm, the film is sure to dazzle us with its new ideas.
But, it doesn’t. And its inability to dazzle is somewhat difficult to define. This is a film where there is also something happening on-screen, but it feels that there is very little going on. This can be traced back to the shallow script. Screenwriter Ashleigh Powell has given us a lot of characters and a lot of plot, but only a trace amount of story. There is basically no character development here. We are simply asked to buy the fact that Clara is a clever girl and move on with things. As stated above, Clara learns that her mother had also traveled to this enchanted realm, but this we never get any elaboration. Was this when she was a child? Was it occurring up until her death? The movie is also oddly emotionless. Perhaps it’s the icy setting or the stiff Victorian era, but the film gives us very little to work with and this, isn’t the least bit engaging.
One thing which does work in The Nutcracker and the Four Realms favor is the production design. The sets are absolutely gorgeous and with each new scene, I would think, “This doesn’t look cheap.” (As it cost a reported $120 million…and only made $54 million at the box office.) However, the colorful and striking sets can’t bring any personality to the movie. A movie which feels very misguided at times. I completely understand that the film would want to pay homage to the original ballet and that it was a coup to get prima ballerina Misty Copeland to perform in the movie, but why stop the story and suddenly have a ballet scene in the second act. If it had come much earlier, it would have been much more organic and digestible. Is Disney so big that they can have their mis-steps like this and feel no pain? I don’t know, but even the richest company should think twice before wading into something like this. A new take on The Nutcracker would be a welcome gift, if some more thought had been put into it.
The Nutcracker and the Four Realms presents us with yet another Disney single-parent family on 4K UHD courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc contains an HEVC 2160p transfer which runs at an average of 70 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from source materials. The colors look very good and the image is never overly dark or bright. The depth is very impressive and gives the film a quasi-3D look at times. The level of detail is also good, showing textures on objects. The Disc carries a Dolby Atmos audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 5.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The action sequences produce well-balanced stereo and surround effects, some of which are nicely detailed. The stereo effects highlight sounds coming from off-screen, while the subwoofer effects adds to the action, especially during the Mother Ginger sequences.
The extra features for The Nutcracker and the Four Realms can be found on the Blu-ray Disc included here. “On Pointe” (5 minutes) takes us on set to see ballerina Misty Copeland at work. It also includes an interview where she discusses her work on the film and her history with The Nutcracker. “Unwrapping The Nutcracker and the Four Realms” (7 minutes) is a brief making-of featurette which examines the look of the film, including the production design and the set decoration. The piece also examines the costumes, from Victorian London to the fairy kingdom. The Disc contains five DELETED SCENES which run about 4 minutes. These are all quite brief and don’t contain any new characters or subplots. The extras are rounded out by two MUSIC VIDEOS – “Fall on Me” by Andrea Bocelli featuring Matteo Bocelli and “The Nutcracker Suite” by Lang Lang.
Review Copyright 2019 by Mike Long