The critics have not been kind to Disney's Nutcracker and the Four Realms. The movie is (very) loosely based on the original story and Tchaikovsky's ballet, but is far more focused on story rather than the beauty of dance. This, in essence, could well be a large part of the movie's downfall, since The Nutcracker works well simply because the story is told through dance rather than words.
In almost all of the reviews, the one scene that receives high praise is the dance sequence starring American ballerina, Misty Copeland. If only Disney had made more of her talents, they could have made something far more entertaining. In fact, the "House of Mouse" should have been bold and produced a dance-based movie instead of one where the characters basically told audiences what was happening as it was all playing out on screen.
With a 34% score on Rotten Tomatoes as of the time of writing, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms has become Disney's worst-reviewed movie of 2018 - quite a feat when you consider the very lukewarm reception that A Wrinkle in Time received. We've rounded up some of the most scathing reviews out there.
The Nutcracker feels like a project assembled by committee, with almost nary an original note, either in the story beats or the production design. Nor is there much jeopardy built into the action, which is abundant, though it's hard to tell exactly for what age group this PG-rated exercise is intended.
The young leads -- including the dashing Nutcracker (Jayden Fowora-Knight) who accompanies Clara on her quest -- are fine, but as drawn, their characters barely occupy one dimension. All that leaves, really, are those familiar strains composed by Tchaikovsky, a cute mouse and plenty of questions about pouring what looks like a lot of money into such a flimsy foundation.
Some confusion is OK if there’s a joke here and there, a bit of wit, an ounce of fun. But odd-couple directors Lasse Hallström (Chocolat) and Joe Johnston (Jurassic Park III) are hellbent on keeping their movie brooding, sad and sedate. For instance: the Mouse King is turned from a fearsome beast into a disgusting mass of thousands of squirming mice that brought to mind the time dozens of rats stormed the West Village Taco Bell in 2007. Have a holly jolly Christmas.
The performances, by and large, range from bad to bland. Foy plays the supposed-to-be-innocent Clara like she’s a runway model named Svetlana. Knightley speaks in an obnoxious helium squeal. And Mirren is dressed as a carnival pirate.
You can find me at the ballet.
Every aspect of of the movie feels as if it’s been determined by algorithm, workshopped and test-marketed into a state of pleasant, fleeting dullness. Even its visible commitment to diverse casting and seemingly earnest advocacy of STEM education (or, at least, a 19th-century steampunk version of same) feels like a savvy marketing strategy, an attempt to attract as many types of potential ticket buyers as possible.
It’s never a good sign when the best scene in a ludicrously expensive, blockbuster reimagining of The Nutcracker is… the part where the movie pauses for a simple dance sequence, complete with practical sets (with visible wheels!) and a show-stopping cameo from ballerina Misty Copeland. And yet, here we have an uninspired screensaver of a movie that fails to offer children interesting characters to care about/see themselves in, a coherent plot to follow, or even the faintest trace of humanity under its $130 million husk of gorgeous sets and garish special effects. It’s a chore to sit through now, and in all likelihood it will be a chore to sit through always.
To put it bluntly, the story is a convoluted mess, occasionally inching toward interesting developments but almost invariably careening off in some frantic new direction before lasting involvement can take hold. The filmmakers seem aware that this is an issue, drenching the action in an almost nonstop flood of lush music that shuffles Tchaikovsky with James Newton Howard. Oversaturation is the default setting.
The Nutcracker and the Four Realms might well draw an audience of parents with young kids who enjoy ballet, but given the lack of dance content, they're likely to be disappointed. In fact, it's hard to see what type of demographic this movie would be suitable for. A distinct lack of buzz surrounding its release is also telling, as though Disney knew what they had on their hands and just decided to release it as quietly as possible. A shame, because with such magical (and well known) source material, and an all-star cast, The Nutcracker could have become an instant classic.