The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, 2018.
Directed by Lasse Halstrom and Joe Johnston.
Starring Mackenzie Foy, Keira Knightley, Helen Mirren, Matthew Macfadyen, Richard E. Grant, Miranda Hart, Jack Whitehall, Eugenio Derbez, Jayden Fowora-Knight, Ellie Bamber, Ocean Navarro, Misty Copeland, Omid Djalili, Tom Sweet, and Morgan Freeman.
A young girl is transported into a magical world of gingerbread soldiers and an army of mice.
Disney is no stranger to extravagant dazzling special effects, but their approach to live-action films that don’t seem to have an interesting story to tell seems to be doubling down on colors and CGI. Such is the case here with The Nutcracker and the Four Realms (an adaptation of both the ballet and the short story, brought to life here by directors Lasse Hallstrom and Joe Johnston, both of whom have diverse filmographies ranging in genres and quality from good to bad), which is all about ravishing costumes set against a backdrop of numerous primary colors; it certainly looks beautiful (that is assisted by protagonists changing outfits occasionally) and it is entertaining in the moment, but all will be forgotten soon.
Clara (Mackenzie Foy receiving her first major starring role and doing about as well as anyone can expect from a performance that demands her to participate in CGI driven set pieces given the extra oomph of even more CGI environments) is an intelligent teenager with a strong understanding of physics, but is under a spell of sadness due to the recent death of her mother (the cause is never really explained, and also doesn’t really matter). Following such tragedy, whatever tight bond she had with her father is now fractured, even with Christmas coming up. At the request of her mother, Clara, and her siblings open up some final gifts from their mother on Christmas Eve night, to which she finds an egg-shaped contraption that is cleverly locked to the point where the brainy girl is aware that it is uncrackable. Nevertheless, opening up the device quickly becomes important as a letter also mentions that all Clara needs is inside. Sounds a little complicated for a Christmas gift, eh?
Heading over with her family to an extravagant party just as stunning to take in as the eventual fantasy realms Clara comes across, she seeks the advice of her uncle (inexplicably played by Morgan Freeman here, appearing for five minutes and with an eye patch to boot) who seems to be able to communicate with an owl, and sends Clara on her way to finding the magical land that her mother once lovingly and fairly ruled over. The actual scene where Clara transitions from reality to fantasy is is some goofiness ripped right out of Disney’s summer offering Christopher Robin (which showed crossing the planes between the Hundred Acre Wood and London), but again, believability, character depth, and functional storytelling is more of an afterthought here than anything. She is also supposed to share a dance with her father at this upper-class gathering, which will clearly have to wait because there’s a whole other world that needs saving! And only by accomplishing that can father and daughter reconcile, because even if the inevitable understanding of one another doesn’t actually feel earned by the end, that’s how Disney rolls when they have the opportunity to spend millions upon millions of dollars for special effects instead of crafting a narrative with any semblance of emotional resonance.
Anyway, soon after Clara crosses between worlds, she finds the key but also encounters a dastardly mouse that swipes it away, leading to some mildly fun action, meeting a nutcracker soldier named Phillip (Jayden Fowora-Knight), and three of the four regents maintaining order over the four titular realms. There’s also some pretty inspired and ethnically diverse casting here, with Hispanic sensation Eugenio Derbez giving one of his expected chipper comedic performances as the flower realm regent. The same goes for Richard E Grant as Shiver who resides over the frosty region. The star of the show, however, (even more so than Mackenzie Foy’s Clara) is Keira Knightley’s Sugar Plum Fairy who not only oversees the land of delicious sweets, but now has majority control over everything following a betrayal from Mother Ginger (Helen Mirren). To further elaborate on things, there is also a heavy exposition dump in the form of a ballet, which is admittedly creative but also runs on far too long, even for a movie that’s only 90 something minutes without credits.
The only two regents that matter are the ladies, one of which that wants to destroy everything while the other wishes to save it, surprisingly leaving the other two with absolutely nothing to do. Thankfully, Keira Knightley is game enough to chew some scenery and give the rest of the film some much-needed energy. Too much of The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is going through the motions just to arrive at the usual Disney clichés and lessons, which children might enjoy, but the money of parents will probably be better will spend on taking them to see Wreck-it Ralph 2 later in the month. Even without that context, the film is still an onslaught of color and effects that simply aren’t enough to recommend the movie over, no matter how pretty they are. The best thing about The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is the amusing interactions between mice and humans.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com