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Review Round-up: Animation And VFX Can’t Save Disney’s ‘Nutcracker And The Four Realms’

The animators and vfx artists delivered great work as usual, but the rest of Disney’s The Nutcracker and the Four Realms doesn’t live up to their efforts, according to the film’s reviews.

Nutcracker’s animation and vfx, produced by MPC, Luma Pictures, One of Us, and Rodeo FX, are receiving plenty of praise from the critics, but the reviews for the Lasse Hallström/Joe Johnston-directed film are otherwise underwhelming. The film, which opens in U.S. theaters today, currently owns a 35% Rotten Tomatoes rating, making it the worst-reviewed Disney release of the year.

Still, the effects work is getting praise. “The extensive CG is nearly seamless, from the towering Palace perched atop waterfalls to the teeming rodents that form the Mouse King (body-mapped on world-famous jookin’ dancer Charles “Lil Buck” Riley),” writes Claudia Bauer in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Scott Marks of the San Diego Reader echoes the praise for the visuals, saying “[M]aybe see it anyway, for the effects work and production design, both of which are nothing short of spectacular.”

There’s apparently not much to recommend beyond the visuals. Variety’s Peter Debruge critiques the “soulless, overcalculated approach of this unwieldy tentpole-by-committee, which feels like a world-building scheme for some future Disneyland theme-park attraction.”

Christy Lemire at RogerEbert.com describes the film as “a weirdly hideous hodgepodge of images and ideas, as convoluted as its confusing title would suggest,” adding “It’s at once familiar and bizarre, overstuffed yet half-baked.”

Peter Travers writes in Rolling Stone:

Any description of what follows, including a battle of tin soldiers, clowns on the attack and a swarm of killer mice, would only evoke other, much better films such as The Wizard of Oz, The Chronicles of Narnia and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. What this Nutcracker offers is so overproduced, so mechanical and so indigestibly whimsical that it won’t just be two-year-olds who want to puke it up.

Some of the film’s discordant qualities may have to do with the fact that it had two very different directors: Lasse Hallström (What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, The Cider House Rules) and Joe Johnston (Jumanji, The Rocketeer, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids). Johnston came aboard the project late for an extensive series of reshoots. With his long experience as a visual effects artist, Johnston presumably had a hand too in finalizing the look of the effects-heavy film.

David Ehrlich in Indiewire is one of numerous critics who observed that the muddled results might have been due to mid-production executive meddling:

While it’s difficult to identify who directed what, it’s even more difficult to shake the feeling that Johnston was hired to sand off the edges, and make this thing more internationally palatable as a product. The compromised result is suspended between a childlike sense of discovery and a corporate sense of duty — at no point does it feel like the story and the graphics are talking to each other, or even in the same language (quoth the Nutcracker: “I don’t speak rodent”). The bland smorgasbord of special effects aren’t rooted in any real pathos, and the inner strength that Clara finds is too underwritten to hold any weight. Things just sort of happen, one after the other, the whole manic enterprise so indistinct that inflections of Tchaikovsky’s music are needed to remind you what you’re even watching.

Made at a cost of around $125 million, Nutcracker is expected to debut in second place this weekend in the $20-25 million range.

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