by Katherine Sinkovics
The Nutcracker is not an easy piece of fiction to adapt into film by any means. Due to the Tchaikovsky ballet’s focus being mostly on visual presentation (set design, music, etc.) rather than story, it’s hard to create a compelling narrative for a film without taking a lot of creative liberties. When Disney decided to adapt the ballet in the form of Nutcracker and the Four Realms, they did it in the same fashion as their recent live-action film adaptations: by trying to appeal to an older demographic by presenting it as a grittier re-imagining of a classic story, and then completely removing any semblance of charm or originality. For a concept as stupid as “Disney’s edgy Nutcracker reboot,” I expected to at least be entertained by the absurdity of the film’s premise, but the movie just left me frustrated and bored by the end of it.
The story is sleep-inducing
As stated earlier, the original story of The Nutcracker is incredibly bare-bones. On the night of Christmas Eve, a young girl named Clara is transported into a magical dream world where she gets caught up in a war between mice and gingerbread man. Aside from the basic premise, there isn’t a lot else to the story since that isn’t the main focus of the ballet. The Nutcracker ballet is something that’s meant to be watched for the performances and music rather than its story. In spite of that, I actually think a more story-heavy Nutcracker film could work in the right hands. The loose story and dream-like setting lends itself well to a lot of creativity, and as an experimental animated film, an edgier Nutcracker could work. But this is a live-action Disney film, and considering a majority of their films have been retreads of their classic animated features, creativity really hasn’t been their strong suit.
If you’re wondering what Disney added to “spice-up” this reimagining, I hope you like bland storytelling and hearing about Clara’s dead mom every other scene, because wow is there a lot of that. The plot of this movie is so bland and predictable that it feels like it was made in a factory specifically designed to make the most forgettable films possible. If you can think of an overused storytelling trope, it’s probably in this film.
Just to name a few, we have a dead parent, an obvious twist villain, a kinda romantic subplot between the two leads but not really, a tomboyish female lead who’s “not like other girls,” and a still dead parent. Did I forget to mention that Clara’s mom is dead? Because they only bring it up every five minutes and it’s very important for you to remember that the mom’s dead because it’s a Disney movie, so of course the mom’s dead and you’re supposed to feel sad. There is not a single original bone in this film’s body and I actually struggle to remember most of this film’s plot because of how painfully boring it is.
On the subject of things that the film likes to bring up ad-nauseum, the film also likes to remind the audience that Clara is very special and not like other girls. She doesn’t like traditionally “girly” things and instead likes science, kicking butt, and all that other #Woke stuff. This is a classic case of Hollywood Feminism, and for those of you who don’t know what that is or why it’s a bad thing, basically just imagine a bunch of out-of-touch Hollywood execs trying to appeal to the #Woke crowd by having a tomboyish female character who’s “not like other girls” and hates traditional female gender roles without having anything else to make them stand out.
At best, it’s lazy character writing that tries to make the character seem more interesting than they actually are, and at worst it’s actively harmful because it sends the message that femininity is inherently bad and that women having “masculine” interests automatically makes them less feminine. By portraying gender expression as this “black or white” concept where one way of expression is inherently worse than the other, it ultimately undermines the entire concept of gender equality and ends up perpetuating sexist stereotypes even further. Ironically, calling so much attention to your character breaking gender roles doesn’t make you look woke, it just makes you look out of touch and shows that you don’t understand the nuances of feminism or gender expression.
Aside from the character being an amalgamation of the worst of Hollywood Feminism, Clara is just an incredibly boring protagonist in general. While the term “Mary Sue” (a character that has no personality outside of being perfect) is thrown around a lot these days, I think it’s perfectly applicable to Clara. On top of having the actual personality of a wooden toy, she’s pretty much treated like a goddess by everyone around her as soon as she enters the dream world and, despite being the middle child of the family, she’s been shown the most favoritism from the mom. While the older sister is left to take the maternal role and the brother is almost ignored, Clara inherits the film’s MacGuffin which apparently has all the answers to the film’s conflict. Oh, and she also has a vaguely romantic subplot with the main soldier character because he’s the male supporting lead.
If you’re wondering why I haven’t talked about any characters besides Clara thus far, it’s because everyone else is so insignificant and boring that there’s nothing to talk about. The only other interesting character of note is the Sugar Plum Fairy played by Keira Knightley, and that’s only because of how over-the-top she gets with her performance near the end. She makes watching the film to the end almost tolerable. Otherwise, seeing her waste her talent on this film makes me wish I was watching Pride and Prejudice instead, since that’s actually a competent adaptation of a classic piece of fiction.
The art direction as dull as the movie
While the film is technically impressive in many aspects and features some solid costume design, the presentation is so bland that it undermines the effort that went into the visual effects. Because this is the Edgy Nutcracker we’re talking about, they decided to make everything as drab as possible, resulting in boring looking environments. It sucks that the art direction was so dull because they could’ve done something much more creative and interesting with the dream setting instead of just making it gritty for the sake of making it gritty.
The best part of the film is a scene halfway through where they literally just recreate the ballet, because that’s where the costume design and soundtrack is allowed to shine the most and there’s a color scheme that isn’t completely drab. During that 10 minute scene, I was actually somewhat entertained by what I was watching and didn’t want to bash my head against a wall out of boredom. But even then, you can get the same experience by watching a performance of the original ballet without it being sandwiched between 90 minutes of awful storytelling.
Featured Image: MovieWeb
Nutcracker and the Four Seasons
‘Nutcracker and the Four Realms’ is the very embodiment of a soulless cash grab. While the idea of an edgier Nutcracker movie should at least be entertaining on an ironic level, the film is an absolute slog to sit through with its generic plot and boring, underdeveloped cast. Even with its solid costume design and some impressive visual effects, the presentation is bogged down by the filmmaker’s attempts to make everything as drab as possible to make everything look “edgier”. Everyone should sleep on this film instead of wasting money on a movie ticket to sleep during it.
Katherine is a Graphic Design major at Ball State University. She is extremely passionate about visual design, animation, and video games of all variety and hopes to integrate all three of those interests into her work at Byte.