“It’s Christmas Eve. A time of mystery, expectations, who knows what might happen?” Five minutes into watching The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, you know exactly what will happen. With all the money at Disney’s disposal to create a heartwarming family film for the Christmas season, it’s astounding how little effort went into the story, forcing The Nutcracker to become yet another film that pursues spectacle over story.
There’s a video essay by Nerdwriter1 called Interstellar: When Spectacle Eclipses Story (Interstellar being another film starring Nutcracker star Mackenzie Foy). The essay dives into how Interstellar fails narratively because of Nolan’s ambition. The film juggles numerous themes and massive set pieces to ultimately say very little. The same could very well be said about The Nutcracker. One imagines this film exists because Disney got the rights for the ballet and worked backwards from there.
The film will no doubt be nominated for an Academy Award in costume design, and the ballet sequence (as short as it is) is certainly lovely to behold. But everything else is lacking. If there is anything to say about the film, it is that it says absolutely nothing at all.
Clara is underdeveloped and given a passion for science early in the film for the sole purpose of her figuring out a way to escape her prison cell. The note Clara receives at the beginning of the movie saying something to the effect of, “Everything you need is inside” obviously relates to how everything Clara needs is inside herself. Even the twist at the end of Act Two feels forced as though the writers knew they wanted a twist but failed to set it up in the slightest.
So what’s the problem with a subpar story as long as it looks pretty? I’ve seen plenty of pretty flowers in my life, but the only ones I remember are those associated with important events, such as giving a gift to my mother. There is nothing of importance in this film to anchor the beautiful images to.
I believe this movie embodies a particular problem with spectacle-driven films. Since more time is necessary to build up a fantastical world and show off all the stunning visuals, less time goes toward building characters and creating a satisfying plot. As a result, everything in the story becomes short-hand for what would be present in an actual plot. No one is relatable. Everyone is a robot going through the motions. It’s like one of those scripts written by A.I. that almost, sort of sounds like the thing it is trying to create but never actually hits the mark.