Movie review: Disney's visually enticing 'Nutcracker' lacks dramatic crunch

 
 
Updated 11/2/2018 7:39 AM
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  • Clara (Mackenzie Foy) receives advice from the Sugar Plum Fairy (Keira Knightley) in Disney's "The Nutcracker and the Four Realms."

    Clara (Mackenzie Foy) receives advice from the Sugar Plum Fairy (Keira Knightley) in Disney's "The Nutcracker and the Four Realms." Courtesy of Disney

"The Nutcracker and the Four Realms" -- ★ ★

Walt Disney's music-filled early holiday gift, "The Nutcracker and the Four Realms," feels like a big-budget, large-studio special effects movie assembled by committee.

Or maybe two directors with different visions of how a fantasy adventure should be?

"The Nutcracker and the Four Realms," directed by Lasse Hallstrom and Joe Johnston, creates magical, fantastic scenes that should utterly amaze audiences. Yet, the all-important emotional bonds between the characters feel thin and scripted.

Where's the excitement? The sense of discovery? The amusing comic interplay?

Clara, the smart young heroine played by the adorable Mackenzie Foy, has a lot to take in this Christmas. Not only will she be required to save the Four Realms from destruction, she must process some heavy personal news.

Her mother Marie (Anna Madeley), in addition to being a devoted wife and doting mom, had been living a secret double life as the beloved queen of the Realms.

Clara (Mackenzie Foy) follows a gold thread into a parallel universe in "The Nutcracker and the Four Realms."
Clara (Mackenzie Foy) follows a gold thread into a parallel universe in "The Nutcracker and the Four Realms." - Courtesy of Disney

So, along with her daily Victorian family chores, Marie had been sneaking off to rule the Realms and their numerous regents. We never know exactly what killed Marie, but it might have been exhaustion.

The plot, from screenwriter Ashleigh Powell, based on E.T.A. Hoffman's "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King," plus Marius Petipa's "Nutcracker Suite," begins when Clara's sad-eyed father (Matthew Macfadyen) gives her an egg-shaped metal box, a last gift from her mother.

But the box's key is missing.

On Christmas Eve, she reluctantly accompanies her brother Fritz (Thomas Sweet), sister Louise (Ellie Bamber) and father to a ball given by her wealthy godfather Drosselmeyer (Morgan Freeman), a mysterious inventor wearing a pirate-esque eyepatch.

He gives Clara a gold thread that she follows into a snowy parallel universe where a mouse, holding the key in his tiny jaws, leads her into the Land of Snowflakes, Land of Flowers and Land of Sweets, plus the scary Fourth Realm, ruled by the tyrannical Mother Ginger (Helen Mirren).

Once the residents of the Realms realize Marie has died, they proclaim Clara their new queen. Mother Ginger isn't happy.

Mother Ginger (Helen Mirren) rules the scary fourth Realm in "The Nutcracker and the Four Realms."
Mother Ginger (Helen Mirren) rules the scary fourth Realm in "The Nutcracker and the Four Realms." - Courtesy of Disney

Clara receives support from a nutcracker soldier (an underwhelming straight-faced Jayden Fowora-Knight) and the delightfully chipper Sugar Plum Fairy (Keira Knightley), who seems to know the political ins and outs of the Realms.

Kids will not be bored with "The Nutcracker" and its numerous visual effects setpieces, particularly the marching giant tin soldiers, the creepy Mouse King and a bunch of rotund clowns bouncing around like Russian nesting dolls trapped in a pinball game.

"The Nutcracker" features performances by ballet stars Misty Copeland and Sergei Polunin over the credits, but they're just the sprinkles over yet another Disney film to feature intelligent, empathetic young females coming into their own.

• • •

Starring: Mackenzie Foy, Keira Knightley, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, Matthew Macfadyen

Directed by: Lasse Hallstrom and Joe Johnston

Other: A Walt Disney Pictures release. Rated PG. 99 minutes

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