[Screen It]


(2018) (Mackenzie Foy, Keira Knightley) (PG)

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Fantasy/Adventure: A young nineteenth-century teen finds herself in a fantastical world where a missing key might unlock what she needs as well as help those who state they're in danger from a woman who rules a nearby realm.
It's the nineteenth century and Clara Stahlbaum (MACKENZIE FOY) is a 14-year-old girl who lives in a nice London manor with her older sister, Louise (ELLIE BAMBER), younger brother, Fritz (TOM SWEET), and their father, Mr. Stahlbaum (MATTHEW MacFADYEN). All of them are still reeling from the recent passing of the family's matriarch. That's especially true for Clara who now feels lost and a bit frustrated by the last Christmas gift from her mother, a locked ornamental egg with a note that states all she needs is inside that.

She turns to her inventor godfather, Drosselmeyer (MORGAN FREEMAN), for answers, but that wise man knows she must find that key for herself. With his indirect help, she follows a rope that leads out of his mansion into a snowy forest where she finds the key, only to have a mouse run away with that. She gives chase and eventually runs into Phillip Hoffman (JAYDEN FOWORA-KNIGHT), a nutcracker soldier who guards a bridge over into the Fourth Realm. He won't let her pass until he realizes she's the princess of the land where her mother, the Queen, once visited long ago.

Despite his warnings about entering the Fourth Realm due to the presence of the scary Mother Ginger (HELEN MIRREN), her clown posse and an army of mice, Clara has him accompany her into the dark and foreboding place, only to encounter a scary mouse "creature" and barely escape. They return to a safer realm where Clara meets the Sugar Plum Fairy (KEIRA KNIGHTLEY).

She informs the young teen of the danger they're in from Mother Ginger and that a key -- likely the same one Clara needs to unlock the egg her mother gave her -- will enable them to turn on a machine that will turn toys into human-sized soldiers to help defend their land. From that point on, Clara does what she can to get that key, unaware of the repercussions that will create.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
To paraphrase Tom Jones, it's not unusual for movie studios to order reshooting for their projects, especially when significant amounts of money are involved. Sometimes that's due to audience testing not coming out the way studio execs would like, while at others it's because things didn't turn out right once in editing mode and need to be fixed.

Such reshoots can be simple and quick, while others are sometimes quite intensive and time-consuming. When done right, only trade publications and then reviewers will make note of such work and general moviegoers will have no idea what's happened behind the scenes. When not pulled off seamlessly, however, viewers can often tell something went amiss somewhere along the line, even if they might not be able to pinpoint exactly what that is.

Case in point is "The Nutcracker and the Four Realms," Disney's retelling of E.T.A. Hoffmann's 1816 short story "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King" that was adapted decades later into Marius Petipa's classic "Nutcracker Ballet" featuring the well-known and instantly recognizable music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Elements of both appear in the film -- although things have been reconfigured here and there -- that has two credited directors.

And that's where the reshoots come in. The original footage was shot by Lasse Hallström (best known for dramatic films such as "The Cider House Rules," "Chocolat," and far more recently, "A Dog's Purpose"). But for reasons only known by those directly involved with the project, more than a month's worth of reshoots were ordered by the studio, and with Hallström unavailable due to "scheduling conflicts," director Joe Johnston (the man behind special-effects laden pics such as "Captain America: The First Avenger," "Jurassic Park III" and the original "Jumanji") was brought in, along with screenwriter Tom McCarthy to amend the original screenplay by Ashleigh Powell.

Armed with that knowledge and the fairly disparate filmmaking styles of the two directors, one can easily guess who handled what parts in the film that clocks in at around 100 minutes. But it's not so much that the two styles don't meld. Instead, it's that unless you're of the preteen girl set (and maybe a handful of boys) who are the natural and intended audience for this offering, you're going to be fairly bored despite all of the razzle-dazzle that will stimulate your eyes.

Yes, the picture is handsome, what with a lush and extravagant production design, pretty and elaborate costumes, and decent CGI effects. Alas, notwithstanding all of that visual splendor, the film comes off as flat and lacking in enough storytelling magic -- despite the related built-in potential -- to make it feel special, let alone become a perennial holiday classic.

With modifications made to various details from the original works, this is standard Disney formula. There's a smart and confident young heroine, Clara, (Mackenzie Foy), who only has one parent and is down on herself and the world (her mother has recently passed). Enter a somewhat magical character (Morgan Freeman as her wise inventor godfather) to help her, and she ends up transported to a fantastical world with fantastical beings.

Among them is a nutcracker soldier (Jayden Fowora-Knight) and a Sugar Plum Fairy (Keira Knightley) who, among others, were once toys but ended up transformed into full-sized living beings back when Clara's mom previously visited. Accordingly, she became the queen of the land, meaning Clara is now considered a princess (imagine that, in a Disney movie, no less).

There's also an evil queen of sorts who must be defeated, or so we're told, mostly likely because she has a giant, mechanical version of herself (talk about ego!), an army of mice who do her bidding (and can assemble together into an undulating mouse monster of sorts), and a bunch of big top characters who apparently inspired the naming of the American hip hop duo Insane Clown Posse.

So, in terms of plot, there's nothing really new here, although there's a twist on one of those above story/character elements and some of the standard Nutcracker ballet (featuring Misty Copeland) is shoehorned into the proceedings at one point, while some of Tchaikovsky's familiar score arrives on the soundtrack.

Yet, despite the sky being the limit -- or in this case, whatever toys were around in nineteenth century London that could be turned into full-sized, living and breathing beings via a gigantic laser beam of sorts -- it's not that engaging or entertaining.

Foy is perfectly fine as the heroine, while Knightly goes from standard issue fairy to a scenery chewing scene stealer with a lusty appetite for mayhem and, apparently, tin soldiers brought to full-size life. At one point she somewhat lustfully says "Hello...boys...." before adding "Boys in uniforms with weapons sends a quiver right through me," making one wonder if we're leaving PG rated territory.

It's hard to tell if that latter, somewhat odd element was the result of the reshoots or was present from the get-go, but that's really the only interesting thing to ponder as things play out in a visually dazzling but otherwise fairly empty-feeling production. It's not horrible by any means, it's just unremarkable and certainly not as magical as it easily could and should have been. "The Nutcracker and the Four Realms" rates as a 5 out of 10.

Reviewed October 30, 2018 / Posted November 2, 2018

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