BEIRUT: The film industry has been functioning more and more like an extremely strategic corporation with more attention being given for product and income versus story and reward, and this is not only slowly eating away at the magic of what movies used to cast upon their audiences, but it is also forcing studios to think twice about films and their release dates.
The Walt Disney Company’s latest film THE NUTCRACKER AND THE FOUR REALMS would have been released later this year during December as it is a film that is very much emphasizing Christmas, the season of gift-giving, family, and new beginnings.
Yet, the film hits box offices during the first week of November, where not one person is feeling the tide of the holiday season.
To place the film at a further disadvantage, the film’s marketing has been almost non-existent, with Disney seemingly pushing THE NUTCRACKER AND THE FOUR REALMS into a toy chest and sliding it under the bed, for fear of an unimpressive box office run.
The problem with the film does not lie with the visuals, whether it be mise-en-scene or the cinematography, but rather from within.
In other words, it is with the execution of the narrative that THE NUTCRACKER AND THE FOUR REALMS goes from magical realm to old forgotten toy.
The film follows a young Clara who is whisked away into adventure via the help of her godfather, Uncle Drosselmeyer, much like the original classic tale, yet everything that comes after gets a predictable formulaic rewrite, though that may not have been what screenwriter Ashleigh Powell intended.
When the audience first meets Clara, she is rambling physics to her younger brother as they set up a trap for a tricky mouse, and then the audience is told and retold how smart, special, and how Clara is unlike anyone her age.
Yet, aside from the scientific ramblings, Clara is pretty much no different – and the audience does not get any other character to compare Clara to.
Not to mention, the two minor challenges that come her way at the beginning of the film, and then throughout the second act, that Clara seems to overcome without even breaking a sweat.
For you see, Clara is another in a long line of female protagonists that seem to be good at everything from the moment they appear on screen, and though at the surface that might not seem like a negative, at its core, any character, regardless of gender, that is not challenged throughout a film and continuously succeeds is a rather dull character to cheer for.
This is not only harmful to stories with female protagonists, but it is also painful for the audience because of lack of engagement.
Witnessing a character trying their hardest to achieve their goal, and along the way winning some, and losing some, is why audiences go to the movies – they want to feel some form of emotional catharsis.
Unfortunately, the audience never fears for Clara’s safety, nor ever doubts that Clara will survive in the end.
Yet when considering all past Disney films, specifically the much-debated and mocked Disney princess films, even though the audience knew that the end would be happy, it would worry about whether Ariel would get her voice back, whether Pocahontas would be able to save her tribe, whether Mulan would be able to save China because the challenge was evident and it was not easy.
On that front, THE NUTCRACKER AND THE FOUR REALMS fails to engage with the audience on a narrative level, and thus becomes a magical missed opportunity.
To add onto the already problematic narrative, screenwriter Ashleigh Powell follows the new Disney agenda of turning what they view as stereotypical villains into the misunderstood heroes while characters who were once beloved heroes into diabolical, heartless villains.
This was the intent behind Disney’s Maleficent, and the mechanics are used again in THE NUTCRACKER AND THE FOUR REALMS, making the plot twist blatantly predictable and disappointing.
The power of classic Disney animations was the never-ending battle between good and evil, yet with this new wave of Disney films, the characters we grew up believing are villains are being restructured and repurposed into poor victims of circumstance that became villains, and that just makes the hero indirectly evil for going after the villain to begin with…
On a positive note, the film’s production value, and color palette are quite mesmerizing to look at.
From the astoundingly flamboyant costumes, to the grandiose sets and environments THE NUTCRACKER AND THE FOUR REALMS is a visual treat.
The film opens with a fantastic long take that helps pull the audience into the world and ambience of the narrative.
One of the most memorable sequences in the film would have to be the interlude ballet sequence due to the creative way that it was shot as well as the stage like set pieces that were placed with the ballerinas.
That one sequence had more complex and layered characters than the entire film.
The performances from the cast were decent when one looks at the screenplay that they were given, yet the stand out performance here goes to Matthew Macfadyen who plays Clara’s father.
His nuanced performance and evident struggle in coping with the loss of his wife and having to remain a proper father to his children almost brings tears to the eye, all this considering he appears in the film a total of twenty-minutes.
THE NUTCRACKER AND THE FOUR REALMS had a lot going for it in terms of visuals and cast but faltered in terms of lazy storytelling that doesn’t require any emotional engagement from audiences, specifically younger audiences who are the main target of such a film.
Gone are the days when Disney used to tell stories that challenged the mind of child and taught them something, even if it was a hard truth.
What we are left with now are cotton candy stories that disappear instantaneously leaving not a trace behind.
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