The Nutcracker has been a Christmas staple for a long time, and it's even been translated for the big screen a few times. But the release of The Nutcracker and the Four Realms marks the first time this tale has been adapted with a blockbuster budget. Disney's take on the short story/ballet is helping kick off the final round of movies in 2018 this weekend, but early reviews are now pouring in, and it sounds like The Nutcracker and the Four Realms won't be going down as a Mouse House classic, though that's not to say it doesn't have redeeming features.
Starting off, CinemaBlend's Dirk Libbey gave The Nutcracker and the Four Realms three out of five stars in his review, saying that while all of the individual pieces of the Nutcracker story are in this movie and has elements in common with The Wizard of Oz and Labyrinth as a fairy tale brought to life, there's nothing particularly exceptional about the movie, particularly in the visual effects area. He also noted that it's obvious that the reshoots changed what The Nutcracker and the Four Realms was originally intended to be.
The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is unlikely to become a Christmas classic, but this fairy tale has a certain bizarre charm that may appeal to some.
On the negative end of the spectrum, Indiewire's David Ehrlich gave The Nutcracker and the Four Realms a measly D+ grade, calling it "eye-popping dreck" that doesn't offer "even the faintest trace of humanity under its $130 million husk of gorgeous sets and garish special effects. In Ehrlich's opinion, this will not be a movie that kids are still thinking hours after seeing it, let alone decades in the future.
The compromised result is suspended between a childlike sense of discovery and a corporate sense of duty - at no point does it feel like the story and the graphics are talking to each other, or even in the same language.
Moving back to mixed territory, Rosie Knight from IGN gave The Nutcracker and the Four Realms a 6.5/10, writing that the movie is a much better offering on the production level than recent Disney remakes/re-imaginings like Alice in Wonderland, Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast (even if the CGI set pieces are a bit much at times), and ultimately, "it's uneven and over-the-top but still manages to foster sweetness and charm."
If you love Christmas, ballet and all things sweet, you'll probably find something to enjoy in this shiny festive fable.
Slashfilm's Karen Han had similar thoughts about The Nutcracker and the Four Realms in her review, giving it a 6/10. In her opinion, Keira Knightley, who plays the Sugar Plum Fairy, steals the show from Mackenzie Foy's Clara and the rest of the cast, though Knightley's performance ends up "making the rest of the film pale by comparison, as none of the rest of it holds a candle to just how hard she leans into the material." Han also called the world this story is set in "lush and colorful," to the point that it seems anime-like at times.
There's plenty to groan about in The Nutcracker and the Four Realms as far as life lessons go, but there's such a manic energy and undercurrent of unapologetic weirdness to the proceedings that it's a delight nevertheless.
Peter Debruge from Variety wasn't so kind towards The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, commenting that the film's title and unusual directorial situation make it seem like "a world-building scheme for some future Disneyland theme-park attraction," which comes at the expense of the plot and characters. However, while displeased with the movie, Debruge felt confident that it won't tarnish the reputation of the original Nutcracker story, which has already suffered "worse indignities."
The Mouse King reinvents a holiday classic, minus the romance and much of the dance, resulting in a movie with little beneath its stunningly designed surface.
Birth.Movies.Death.'s Leigh Monson stated that The Nutcracker and the Four Realms focuses too much on world building, and because the movie spends so much time on this, explaining the importance of Clara and other background passed along through exposition, it all feels "shallow and tedious." As Leigh sees it, there's no strong reason to care about the movie, especially if you already like the other movies it borrows from, like Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland and The Chronicles of Narnia.
It's functional and plods along at a good clip, but it's entirely mechanical and without soul, marching with no purpose other than to provide momentary distraction when there is nothing else to bother with.
Finally, to end on things on a more positive note, The Washington Post's Michael O'Sullivan awarded The Nutcracker and the Four Realms three out of four stars, proclaiming it a "visual spectacle that is wildly imaginative, dazzling and, more often than not, charming," and also complimented the dance sequences, some of which feature ballet dancer Misty Copeland.
In the end, Nutcracker is a delightfully old-school diversion. The plot may not always hum with the clockwork precision of one of Drosselmeyer's mechanical toys, but like a music box, it nevertheless plays a sweet tune.
Overall, it appears that while there are parts of The Nutcracker and the Four Realms that are enjoyable and get you in the Christmas spirit, the assembled product is rather average, maybe even mediocre in some eyes. Still, if you grew up liking The Nutcracker, be it in written form or performed in dance, or are just looking for a colorful, family-friendly adventure to kill two hours with, this might be checking out.
You can judge The Nutcracker and the Four Realms for yourself when it's released in theaters this Friday, November 2. Don't forget to also look through our 2018 release schedule to learn what else is arriving before the year is over (such as fellow Christmas offering The Grinch and Disney's Mary Poppins Returns), as well as our 2019 release schedule to see what next year will bring.