Family Movie Review: The Nutcracker and the Four Realms (PG)

Disney's pretty-looking 'The Nutcracker and the Four Realms' is immediately forgettable.

Kernel Rating: 2.5 (2.5 out of 5)

MPAA Rating: PG         Length: 99 minutes

Age Appropriate For: 10+. This film is "suggested by" the original Nutcracker story, and includes a few elements of that recognizable holiday tale, such as the Mouse King, who in this retelling is a mass formed by countless mice. A parent dies off-screen and is mourned; some angst between the remaining parent and their children; some scary scenes of clowns attacking people; characters are swallowed by the earth and disappear; some jump scares; some light flirting between two characters; some rudeness and bullying exhibited from a few other characters; and there are some warfare scenes including soldiers attacking and fighting. The clowns and mice might be most unsettling for younger children.

By Roxana Hadadi

In the professional movie-making world, films adapted from other texts credit those works with a variety of explanations, like "inspired by" or "based on." Each term means something different given what the movie kept from the original work or how much it changed.

I have never, in a decade of reviewing films for Chesapeake Family magazine, seen a movie that is "suggested by" another text before, but that is how Disney's latest film, "The Nutcracker and the Four Realms," acknowledges its connection to the 1816 German short story and the popular 19th century ballet. You'll only recognize a few elements of the popular holiday story in this film, which is pretty to look at in that CGI-heavy Disney way but is also narratively lacking.

TheNutcrackerandtheFourRealms1 ChesapeakeFamilyMovieReview"The Nutcracker and the Four Realms" begins somewhat recognizably: Young Clara (Mackenzie Foy, of "Interstellar") is getting ready to celebrate the Christmas holiday with her father, older sister, and younger brother; her mother has recently passed away, and Clara is upset by her father's insistence that they keep up appearances by going to her godfather's holiday party. But when she arrives there and is given her gift, Clara is magically transported into another world, that of the Four Realms, where she learns that her mother was respected and adored as a queen.

In her mother's absence, the Four Realms have suffered: Although the Flowers, Snowflakes, and Sweets Realms have remained united, Sugar Plum (Keira Knightley, of "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales") informs the now Princess Clara that the Land of Amusements has started attacking the other realms. The circus-themed Land of Amusements is led by Mother Ginger (Helen Mirren, of "The Fate of the Furious") and overrun by mice, and Sugar Plum and the other realm leaders need Clara's help to stop the war.

Desperate to live up to her mother's legacy, Clara decides to take the side of the Three Realms and attack Mother Ginger. With the Nutcracker soldier, Captain Philip (Jayden Fowora-Knight), Clara marches into the Land of Amusements. But is she making the right choice?

Some of the tweaks to the Nutcracker story work well in this film version: With the opportunity to build different realms, the production design, despite being heavily CGI, is often beautiful, particularly in the snowy Christmas Tree Forest and the sugary pastels of the characters from the Land of Sweets. The costumes are intricate; Misty Copeland is a welcome presence as the Ballerina Princess, with staggering performances in the film and during the credit sequence; and Clara's interest in science, physics, mechanics, and engineering is a welcome representation of a young girl's delving into STEM subjects (similar to this spring's "A Wrinkle in Time").

But the disparate elements of the story barely fit together. Clara never feels like a truly formed character; she commands and argues with other characters more often than she speaks to them, and her motivations in the Four Realms don't make much sense. With a srange baby-type voice, Knightley is hilarious as Sugar Plum, but her choices are also nonsensical, and there are some gaping holes in the middle of the film that make it seem like the plot had no idea where to go. And much like Disney's live-action "Alice in Wonderland" remakes, "The Nutcracker and the Four Realms" falls back on a story about war and dissent inside of a kingdom as an easy way to build conflict instead of truly developing the story's characters.

"The Nutcracker and the Four Realms" primarily lacks nuance, from its more-is-more production design to its on-the-nose dialogue: "Some locks are harder to pick than others," Morgan Freeman's godfather character says to Clara; "Guess I'm not in London anymore," Clara says when she reaches the Four Realms. And isn't it strange that the movie switches around the plot to focus on Clara, but is still named after a male character and locations that are mostly unexplored? "The Nutcracker and the Four Realms" recreates the imagery of a holiday classic, but it can't build the spirit of one.

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