Review: The Nutcracker And The Four Realms

Just a warning: “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms” does not have the Nutcracker in it.

Oh, there’s a character who is described as A nutcracker, but THE Nutcracker is conspicuously absent from this story. In fact, nothing but a handful of names and some music can be found from E.T.A. Hoffman’s novella and Tchaikovsky’s ballet — instead Disney has concocted their own candy-coated, cliche-riddled, superficially-sentimental fantasy tale with all the depth of a pretty Christmas card.

Clara (Mackenzie Foy) receives an early Christmas present from her recently-deceased mother: an ornate egg-shaped box, with no key to open it. She brings this odd problem to her godfather Drosselmeyer (a fairly disinterested Morgan Freeman) at a Christmas party that night, and then follows a golden ribbon through the house to Narnia. Oops, sorry, she ends up in the Realm of Snowflakes, another perpetually wintry place where time passes much faster than on Earth.

She soon finds the key she’s looking for (yes, it was just that easy), only to have it stolen by a mouse. And if you’re hoping for the Mouse King, prepare to be disappointed — this mouse is one of the servants of Mother Ginger (Helen Mirren), the reviled ruler of one of the Four Realms that make up this world. Take a shot every time someone says “realm,” and you’ll be dead of alcohol poisoning by the halfway point of the movie.

Clara is welcomed as a princess by the people of the other three realms, since her late mother was their beloved queen. But she soon discovers that the MacGuffin key is not only necessary to open her egg, but turn on a magical machine that turns toys into living creatures. To get it back, she will have to venture into the Fourth Realm — and discover that not all is as it seems.

In a lot of ways, “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms” is a more extreme version of the live-action “Alice in Wonderland” movies. Disney clearly wanted to tell their own story — a wannabe-epic-fantasy with lots of CGI and a bland heroine everybody hails as a savior — but instead of just doing that, they tacked the skin of a recognizable property over their own work. And yet, somehow it wouldn’t be so obnoxious if the movie were any good.

Admittedly the sets, costumes and scenery are very pretty and elaborate, full of bright, slightly artificial colors that befit the toylike nature of the Realms. And some of the sets and CGI are quite effective, such as a little troupe of grotesque clowns in the Fourth Realm, or the giant mass of writhing mice that rise up and swamp those they attack.

But under that is a thick stew of predictable plot developments and stale cliches, right down to the nauseatingly trite lessons that are hamfistedly crammed down our throats. A certain scene involving a mirror is likely to produce more eyerolls than inspiration.

Foy gives a profoundly uninspired performance here, but to be fair, her character is profoundly uninspired. Clara is a Generic Strong Female Character as imagined by Disney — we’re assured that she’s ahead of her time (she can awkwardly recite Newtonian laws!) and has no real flaws, which only means that she feels like a hollow shell. Writer Ashleigh Powell tries to give her some kind of emotional arc involving her grieving father, but it just sort of sputters to an end rather than truly being resolved.

As for the other actors, they might as well be paper dolls. Both Helen Mirren and Morgan Freeman are utterly wasted in their relatively brief roles. Jayden Fowora-Knight does as good a job as he can in his thin character. And Keira Knightley gives an… interesting performance as the Sugarplum Fairy. She’s all flittery energy, uniform fetish and sugary baby-voice, but her character’s motivation is perhaps the most forced and thin of all — she reacts the way she does not because of any developed characterization, but because the plot demands she do so.

Anyone hoping for a Nutcracker movie about the Nutcracker… would be better off watching a DVD of the ballet.“The Nutcracker and the Four Realms” is not only a bad adaptation, but just a bad fantasy story.

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