“Everything looks different from the realms.”
As a multi-million dollar costume party largely set against some lavish set designs and innumerable CGI filled backdrops, Disney’s The Nutcracker and the Four Realms practically explodes off of the screen. This is a bath bomb of a movie, so colorful and frilly and visually spellbinding, and in that sense it’s hard not to dive right into the thick of things. The problem is that the magic of this grand spectacle can’t outlive or possibly be sustained for the entire length of the film. The Nutcracker opts to prioritize kaleidoscopic daydreams over logical storytelling, reducing this one to little more than a gorgeous, passing tornado made up of pixie dust.
Mostly sticking to the ballet’s original script in the opening act, Clara (Mackenzie Foy) spends Christmas Eve at an illustrious London party hosted by her Godfather (Morgan Freeman). Her Dad (Matthew Macfayden), still reeling from the recent loss of his beloved wife, gives each of the three children an early present. Clara receives a special, intricately designed egg from her late Mother, along with a note promising the gift will be all she ever needs. And yet it is locked. On the hunt she goes, disappearing through the mansion’s silk-stocking corridors to another world altogether. As she searches for the key, she also pursues her destiny. It’s a two birds with one stone type of narrative leap.
Clara meets Captain Phillip (Jayden Fowora-Knight in a role that’s too clearly his first professional acting gig), the eponymous nutcracker who serves as her compass throughout the Four Realms, except for the off-limits Land of Amusements ruled by the supposedly evil Mother Ginger (Helen Mirren). She meets the rest of the rulers, two of whom amount to well-dressed stand-ins, as well as the Sugar Plum Fairy (Keira Knightley). From here on out soft details begin to emerge as the film leads to more important questions. Clara’s Mother created this world but we don’t know why. Clara is led to the magical portal while her siblings are left behind, with the only reasoning being that she’s likely the favorite, or at least the most inquisitive. The film also has terrible control – or in this case restraint – over the identity of its true antagonist, crumbling into a final act that’s every bit as hackneyed and preposterous as The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause.
While the The Nutcracker clumsily takes on its ambitious journey with two left feet, there’s still plenty of devotion from the cast to make its outrageous theatrics a little bit grounded. Mackenzie Foy is the real deal, a needle in Hollywood’s haystack and the rare type of young performer who’s able to convey as much with her eyes as she is her voice. It’s also great fun to watch Keira Knightley play a posh, squeaky, cotton candy queen. Much like that amusement park spun sugar delight though, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms satisfies the imagination more than is does the taste buds, dissolving almost immediately. Disney’s latest attempts to muddle Tchaikovsky’s classical arrangements with the opulent ballroom look of 2015’s Cinderella, all while set in an alternate universe inspired by The Chronicles of Narnia. My sweet tooth enjoyed the film because it looks so delectable, and although it truly is a harmless sight for your soon to be sore eyes, the fleeting nature of memory favors emotional connections over this type of large-scale, gaudy imagery. Like a cupcake, the only memorable flavor here comes from the frosted top, and the rest is a plain vanilla filler.
“It’s impossible to open without a key.”
Rating: 2.5 out of 5