If Disney was hoping to create the "definitive version of The Nutcracker," they've got a lot more work to do. The Nutcracker and The Four Realms plays like the first draft of a script from a college senior submitting her final project. In fact, the Four Realms is close to being a really good movie, but it falls short in so many ways.
Let's start with the good parts. Mackenzie Foy and Matthew Macfayden add a lot of emotion to their characters of Clara and Mr. Stahlbaum respectively. Costume designer Jenny Beavan should win an Oscar for her creativity in this film. Ballerina Misty Copeland treats all of us to an amazing performance that most of us could not afford to see otherwise. It's cliche to say the best part of a movie is the end credits, but Disney allows Misty to freely dance — which alone might be worth the ticket price. The video below has bits of it.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iz1J_mwnMQc&w=560&h=315]
There is so much wrong with Four Realms that it is hard to know where to start. The biggest weakness of the film is the story. It tries to take viewers down the well-trodden path of uncertain young girl who becomes a strong character by the end. (Think Mulan, Casey Newton, etc). The problem is that Clara is never uncertain, so moments that should carry weight never seem to quite get there. Her growth as a character is minuscule at best and non-existent at worst.
Meanwhile, the main twist in the story seems completely manufactured for the sake of having a twist. Disney is currently so hooked on trying to subvert audience expectations that if Snow White were made today, Dopey would turn out to be a master villain. There are plenty of ways to tell an exciting story even when the audience knows how it will end. The live-action version of The Jungle Book didn't need Bagheera to join Shere Khan for it to be a great movie.
If you can get past the story — and that's a big if — you then contend with a few disjointed acting performances. To be fair, this duality is likely due to the fact that one part of the movie was directed by
Lasse Hallström and all of the reshoots were done by
Joe Johnston. Still Nutcracker Captain Phillip (Jayden Fowora-Knight) is sometimes stiff and other times loose, while Sugar Plum (Kiera Knightley) is borderline inappropriate in the way she provides a double entendre for some of her lines. Even Helen Mirren, who does a good job as Mother Ginger, can't rescue the doomed script.
Disney was very close to adding another strong female character to the Disney canon, but Four Realms falls short. The costumes and set design are inspiring, but in the end the story is too big of a nut for this film to crack.