When a film requires a second director to complete reshoots, it's more than likely the final product an uneven affair that fails to connect with critics. Unfortunately, it appears as if Disney's The Nutcracker and the Four Realms has fallen victim to that very problem.
Signs that the feature was troubled became all the more clear when the review embargo was revealed to be on the day of theatrical release. In most instances, when Disney believes in one of its films, it will open the floodgates on reviews two weeks out. So, it's not entirely surprising that the flashy family Christmas film is being crushed by critics, with The Nutcracker and the Four Realms sitting with a less-than-stellar 35 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The consensus? Despite the big budget, big stars and flashy CGI, the film's "half-baked" story fails to take off.
Unlike Justice League and Bohemian Rhapsody, two films that experienced director shake-ups, Disney's Nutcracker and the Four Realms' reason for bringing on Joe Johnston for month-long reshoots appears to be a legitimate scheduling conflict. Original director Lasse Hallstrom was unavailable last year to complete additional photography, but he was still heavily involved in post-production, which led to the rare case in which the Directors Guild of America gave credit to both filmmakers. And yet, even Johnston's touch couldn't save this adaptation.
When the review embargo finally lifted Friday, critics were quick to note that Disney's holiday feature feels like an "overstuffed" and "half-baked" attempt at recreating the classic story. And even those that do have something positive to say seem to reaffirm there's plenty of issues in the final product -- something that isn't dreadful, but something that could have certainly been much more if handled properly. Here's a selection of the harshest reviews of Disney's The Nutcracker and the Four Realms:
Katie Walsh, Chicago Tribune: "The Nutcracker and the Four Realms? What in the cuckoo Christmas blasphemy is this? Disney, continuing on its inexorable death march to add more war to soft and beautiful classic childhood stories, has plucked all the feathers from Tchaikovsky and Petipa's holiday ballet and tossed a bunch of glitter and circus clowns at its quivering carcass. This is your warning that if you have any affinity for the ballet, avoid this at all costs."
Peter Travers, Rolling Stone: "Slow torture for kids and grownups alike, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms gives a bad name to the very concept of family entertainment. What went wrong? Where to begin?!? On the surface, this Disney debacle seems like a no-brainer for the holidays: It’s an 1816 gothic fairy tale by E.T.A. Hoffman and a ballet with music by Tchaikovsky. What we have here is simply a botch job with two directors — Lasse Hallstrom (My Life as a Dog) for starters and Joe Johnston (Jurassic Park III) for reshoots — and absolutely no personality of its own."
Christy Lemire, RogerEbert.com: 'The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is a weirdly hideous hodgepodge of images and ideas, as convoluted as its confusing title would suggest. It’s at once familiar and bizarre, overstuffed yet half-baked. And while it boasts impressive individual elements, the overall result remains far from the magic it seeks."
Michael Heaton, The Plain Dealer: "The budget for this Nutcracker is estimated to be more than $130 million. And every scene is a gorgeous feast for the eyes. It's also obvious that producers made sure that the cast was racially diverse. Unfortunately, if the story and script aren't compelling, all you're left with are baubles, bangles and pretty sets and costumes with nowhere to go."
Rafer Guzman, Newsday: "Someone call the Grinch before this Nutcracker ruins Christmas."
Katie Rife, A.V. Club: "Every aspect of of the movie feels as if it’s been determined by algorithm, workshopped and test-marketed into a state of pleasant, fleeting dullness. Even its visible commitment to diverse casting and seemingly earnest advocacy of STEM education (or, at least, a 19th-century steampunk version of same) feels like a savvy marketing strategy, an attempt to attract as many types of potential ticket buyers as possible."
Emily Yoshida, New York Magazine: "As the regent of the Ice Realm, I felt deep embarrassment for Richard E. Grant, a sensitive actor with a great face, nearly completely obstructed by a fringe of plastic icicles. Eugenio Derbez seems to be giving his flamboyant Flower Regent performance on another soundstage altogether (not unlikely, in fact). Not even Keira Knightley as a saccharine-voiced Sugar Plum Fairy can inject any feeling of human presence."
Joe Morgenstern, The Wall Street Journal: "Many foods these days carry warnings that they were made in a facility also used for processing nuts. Be forewarned that Disney’s latest holiday offering has reprocessed nothing but bits, pieces, slivers and chunks of Nutcrackery into a colorful, sumptuously produced confection with barely detectable nutritional value."
Unfortunately for The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, poor word of mouth may ultimately hurt this pricey venture. Saddled with a production budget estimated at $125 million, the film is looking to take in a dismal $20 million to $26 million this weekend, coming in second behind the also-troubled Bohemian Rhapsody. So much for a holiday classic.
Directed by Lasse Hallstrom and Joe Johnston, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms stars Mackenzie Foy, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, Jack Whitehall, Keira Knightley, and acclaimed Ballerina, Misty Copeland. The film is in theaters now.