1 ½ (out of 4)
With Tchaikovsky’s rapturously iconic ballet and a story as simple and surreal as E.T.A. Hoffmann's enduring 1816 fable at your disposal – not to mention 120 million dollars – how did Disney's spin on a Christmas classic turn out as pitifully deficient as The Nutcracker and the Four Realms?
Since, as a rule, invented sequels to popular lore are always inferior to their inspirations (how I hate to recall Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland), the abundantly affluent studio has warped dreamlike source material into a dull and diluted fantasy adventure. Disney is extremely practiced at shaping digestible and predictable family-friendly fare but the proclivity for pressing their stamp on established fiction could use some restraint in general, and especially here. You don't need to see the names of two directors in the credits – Lasse Hallström primarily and Joe Johnston for reshoots – to realize this Nutcracker was produced not by creative impetus but rather to cash in on the ballet's lasting onstage popularity.
Every character is an indistinct caricature. Morgan Freeman as Drosselmeyer, Kiera Knightly as the Sugar Plum Fairy nor Mackensie Foy as the central figure Clara cannot redeem celestially callous filmmaking. Acting was less the principal reason I entered a tyke-teeming theater than it was for Tchaikovsky's orchestral music. The movements alone are dazzlingly, resplendently expressive as Disney themselves proved in one of their greatest achievements Fantasia. At first some of the most famous sonic passages are present before getting misplaced within plot-heavy rubbish, when dancing could have told the story far better than neophyte Ashleigh Powell's script. James Newton Howard's accompanying score is forced to make up for the multiple movie moments Disney felt couldn't be harmonically sustained by the Russian composer's work – skilled as Howard is, his adjacent symphonic measures are meager next to Tchaikovsky’s innumerable timeless melodies.
In discounting unrestricted access to a wellspring of beautiful music and storytelling, Disney moreover squanders the opportunity to produce a potentially definitive screen version of The Nutcracker. The 1986 Maurice Sendak-assisted attempt did the ballet best and the Japanese 1979 stop motion feature exercised real narrative invention – neither are exactly exemplary but the Mouse King had boundless resources and wasted most of them. Although this Nutcracker's sheer production value is exorbitant, the fantastical factors are implemented without awe or splendor. Disney's substantial monetary exertion only accentuates the degree of wasted effort spent on a most prosaic adaptation.
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