Movie lacks energy, charm and Disney magic

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“The Nutcracker” has been one of the most beloved family holiday favorites for over two centuries, so nobody is better at reimagining a fairy tale than Disney. They released live versions of “Cinderella” (2015) and “Beauty and the Beast” (2017), but if you remember, “Sleeping Beauty” was totally reimagined in Angelina Jolie’s “Maleficent” (2014).

In a similar manner, Disney has now reimagined the story of “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms.” Maybe it was time for a change as German author E.T.A. Hoffman wrote the original story in 1816. Frenchman Alexandre Dumas adapted the story, which Russian composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky helped turn into the treasured ballet in 1892.

The current release is a dazzling visual masterpiece. From the opening scenes, the magnificent set pieces treat the audience to stunning eye candy surrounding a delightful cast. This had all the makings of an instant classic. Unfortunately, the story, from first-time screenwriter Ashleigh Powell, is trite, lackluster and at times, tedious.

Seventeen-year-old veteran actress Mackenzie Foy, who bears an uncanny resemblance to a young Anne Hathaway, carries the story. As Clara, she is the daughter of recently deceased Marie, who may have lived a much more significant life than had been known. Naturally, Disney adds a parental death to the story, which works (?) every time.

A spunky Keira Knightley co-stars as the Sugar Plum Fairy, whose role has dramatically changed and may not necessarily please purists. Helen Mirren adds her wit and personality as Mother Ginger, leader of the Fourth Realm, while Morgan Freeman plays his stereotypical role as the wise and all knowing Oz, this time called Dosselmeyer.

Unlike the original, Clara enters a snow-covered forest through a magical portal. In this “Narnia” world, she is in search of the literal key to her happiness. She finds a castle resembling the Kremlin or maybe South Dakota’s Corn Palace. The Nutcracker is simply a nice guy called Captain Phillip, who helps as more of a sidekick.

With a multi-ethnic cast and lots of girl power, the story is not bad; it’s just there, with not much special or exciting about it. It might not have been noticeable were it not for the numerous meticulously crafted sets from production designer Guy Hendrix Dyas. Each breath-taking set piece consists of stunning and even overwhelming detail.

It would seem as if costume designer Jenny Beavan was given an unlimited budget and unchecked limitations for almost every scene. Meanwhile, composer James Newton Howard created beautiful renditions of the Tchaikovsky score. L.A.’s Gustavo Dudamel conducts the London Philharmonic Orchestra behind a silhouette, as done in Disney’s “Fantasia” (1940), which featured a scene from “The Nutcracker Suite.”

Andrea Bocelli and son Matteo sing a duet, and ballerina Misty Copeland is featured as the Ballerina Princess. During the credits, a superb hip-hop dance is performed to the same music as Copeland’s traditional ballet. There is so much right with this movie, that the story is conspicuously unworthy of the magnificent studio production. In fairness, there is enough color, shiny objects, and sparkling CGI to dazzle many youngsters. They just might love it. However, there clearly were missed opportunities.

“The Nutcracker and the Four Realms” is 99 minutes and rated PG for some mild peril. This is one of the most spectacular movies we’ve seen in a very long time. It is festive and so visually and audibly exquisite, it borders on being over-produced. However, the sensory experience might be worth the price of admission alone.

The story lacks animation, energy and charm, but mostly it lacks that Disney magic. Even so, we are pleased to have seen this movie. The moral of the story is to return harmony to an unstable world. Based on the $120 million budget and meager box office returns, Disney might be wondering how to do that. The one object those in the hot seat will not want to see in that room would be a nutcracker.

Ron’s Rating: C+
Leigh’s Rating: C+

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Ron & Leigh Martel