Disney’s take on the classic ballet, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, is the studio’s worst reviewed movie of 2018. Up until now, The Walt Disney Studios has had a great year. Avengers: Infinity War instantly became one of the biggest movies ever made, the long-awaited Incredibles 2 broke box office records for animated films, and Black Panther remains the most enduring pop culture milestone of the year. While there have been some disappointments, such as the under-performing blockbusters A Wrinkle in Time and Solo: A Star Wars Story, the company remains unbeatable in Hollywood, not only commercially but critically. But that may be about to change.
The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, which will be released this week, is the latest live-action film from Disney. An adaptation of the German fairy-tale and the Tchaikovsky ballet, the story signifies the studio’s further attempts to expand their live-action output beyond remakes of their classic cartoons and Pirates of the Caribbean sequels. Directed by Lasse Hallstrom and Joe Johnston, the film stars Mackenzie Foy, Keira Knightley, Morgan Freeman and Helen Mirren, and retells the classic story with a greater focus on narrative over the spectacle of dance (although ballerina Misty Copeland does make an appearance). The film was considered an oddity by many Disney fans long before its release, and anticipation for it was noticeably lower than other more familiar Disney releases from 2018. A title like this would need great reviews to overcome such skepticism.
Unfortunately, the reviews have been a new low for Disney in 2018. Currently, the movie has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 34% and a Metacritic number of 37. While its main competition this week - the Queen biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody - is similarly negatively reviewed, it still has higher aggregate scores of 58% and 48, respectively. The numbers for The Nutcracker and the Four Realms don’t stack up much better when compared to its studio competition: Incredibles 2 has scores of 94% and 80, and remains one of the best reviewed blockbusters of the year; Black Panther remains the jewel in Disney’s crown in 2018 with scores of 97% and 88; Avengers: Infinity War is slightly lower with 84% and 68; Even Ant-Man and the Wasp - oft-dramatized as the Marvel flop of the year - has scores of 88% and 70.
Disney's worst reviewed film of 2018 up until The Nutcracker and the Four Realms was A Wrinkle in Time, and that still managed to surpass its paltry review scores with 42% on Rotten Tomatoes and 53 on Metacritic. It may be purely coincidence that Disney’s two critical disappointments of the year are both live-action adaptations of non-Disney properties, but it speaks volumes to the studio’s struggle to maintain this particular strategy in the long-term.
Live-action remakes of classic titles are becoming Disney’s bread and butter outside of their acquired franchises. They manage to overcome middling to negative reviews to become box office smashes, such as last year’s Beauty and the Beast. This is partly because the properties themselves are so recognizable and beloved by millions. The built-in brand synergy and revival of nostalgia is too good to resist. Neither A Wrinkle in Time or The Nutcracker and the Four Realms have that advantage. Both are known intellectual properties – and the latter is public domain, meaning Disney can make their own easy-to-brand version – but neither had decades of growing fan attachment in the way, say, Cinderella had when it was remade. Plenty of people know what The Nutcracker is and go to see a performance of the ballet during the holidays, but there’s a huge difference between that and getting people to see a movie where the dance element is secondary.
- The Nutcracker and the Four Realms (2018) release date: Nov 02, 2018