Sometimes, it is best to watch a movie with no details in mind or even any awareness of people’s perception of it. This was the case for me with The Nutcracker and the Four Realms.

It is one of the least marketed of Disney’s movies this year, all the more surprising since its production budget was well over 100 million dollars. I had not heard of the film until I saw the posters at a the mall, and nor have I read the 1816 book, The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, that inspired the movie.

Had I read reviews and searched, I would have found an article headlined “Disney’s ‘The Nutcracker and the Four Realms’ fails in performances, effects, storyline” by the Daily Nebraskan or The Wrap’s “Why Hollywood Can’t Crack ‘The Nutcracker’ Story.”

I may not have hated the movie, but I would have been influenced in some way.

Instead, I found The Nutcracker a rather warm-hearted movie, with amazing visual effects, calm pacing and an admirable theme. But I cannot deny that the performances were below par and the storyline predictable.

Still, I do not see how these shortcomings merit lower ratings for the movie when scant attention is given to the same offenses in the endless barrage of superhero movies Hollywood throws our way every month or so.

The movie is about Clara (Mackenzie Foy), a girl interested in science but forced by her father to spend more time socialising like her two siblings. Her luck changes when on a Christmas Eve she receives a gift from her late mother that has been in the care of her father.

It is a box in the shape of an egg, locked with a key that she does not have. Looking for a clue, she turns to the only person she trusts can help, her godfather, who is played by Morgan Freeman. He leads her to the four magical realms and the Nutcracker, all of which her mother invented or brought to life, but are currently at war with each other.

It is a journey where she has to prove herself by defeating the enemy and helping the inhabitants of the realms live happily ever after, just like in a superhero movie.

Behind the camera are Lasse Hallstrom and Joe Johnston. The team should have made for a fantastic movie out of The Nutcracker. The former is one of the most gifted directors in creating emotionally-charged and inspiring movies while the latter has considerable experience in working with green screens. Unfortunately, none of these guys have been on their A-games lately.

Hallstrom has gone from being the guy that gave us My Life as a Dog and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape to the dull Safe Heaven. The last good film he made was Hachi: A Dog’s Tale, a tear-jerker, but a good one nonetheless.

Johnston has not been lucky these days either. but his skills in handling movies with a amazing computer animation still is notable. He is best known for Honey, I Shrunk the Kids and the Robin Williams-starring Jumanji, both passable movies. Some of his latest work includes the likes of Captain America: The First Avenger, the worst of all the Captain America movies, and The Wolfman, a relentlessly forgettable movie.

This collaboration has produced a movie with bursts of imagination in visual presentation and a story that emotionally connects with the audience. It is a children’s movie, largely concerning itself in inspiring awe, curiosity and empathy.

But even for a movie that is meant to be light and for children, some of the third-rate acting performances cannot be justified. Foy’s, which plays the lead character, performance seems forced, and Jayden Fowora-Knight, who plays the Nutcracker, was aloof, hitting none of the movie’s emotional highs.

They are young actors though, and we can give them a pass this time; they will get better with experience. But it is hard to excuse Keira Knightley, for this is the sort of bad performance that could end careers. She is the films biggest Achilles’ Heel, which is unfortunate since fantasy movies should have been her forte by now.

PUBLISHED ON Nov 17,2018 [ VOL 19 , NO 968]

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