Even as I watched The Nutcracker and the Four Realms I was confused about what to write. On paper the film ticks every box. It is stunning, visually, with 3D work that considers all aspects of depth and truly works to benefit the film. Mackenzie Foy and Keira Knightly are perfection together as they build the reality of the Realms. Walking in I didn’t know that Misty Copeland would be dancing the ballet, and that was a beautiful surprise. The integration of tidbits of the ballet was whimsical and witty, and the Rat King was honestly the most grotesque thing I could imagine, so kudos to that designer.
I think the film went wrong in two ways. First, there was a LOT of exposition to wedge in with a show that was not terribly long. Clara’s family and loss of mother. Her relationship to Drosselmeyer. The cultural norms of Christmas in that period. The tinkering. The ballet. The gifts. The Realms. The War. The Rat King. The Guards. Whew. I’m exhausted, and that barely gets us into the main world of the movie! It felt like the film was chasing a runaway train of backstory until its very final moments. Another ten minutes, even, might have allowed for more natural discovery that would have left me with less desire for a program note.
I would have minded the exposition derby less - heck, I might not have noticed - had the second problem not been so constant. Someone forgot to add the show’s heart. Characters acknowledged each other, but they rarely cared for or invested in each other. Clara’s backstory was addressed as a plot feature, rather than as a source of empathy, development, or growth. As a result, the audience is able to watch the film, but not to get involved in it. It was a nice 109 minutes. Pretty. Now what?
It was disappointing to enjoy so many elements of The Nutcracker and the Four Realms only to be unable to enjoy the film because the warmth of Clara’s story was missing from its very soul. More careful scripting and either of the two directors keeping an eye on its spirit would have yielded something special, rather than the pretty-though-forgettable movie they have released.