Based on E.T.A. Hoffmann’s “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” and Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker” ballet, Disney’s newest fantasy also adds in large, frothy dollops of “Alice in Wonderland, “ “Narnia” and even “Pan’s Labyrinth.”
The action in “The Nutcracker And The Four Realms” begins like so many other Disney films, with the death of a parent. It’s Christmas and Clara (Mackenzie Foy) is still hurting from the recent loss of her mother. Her present is a beautiful ornamental egg once owned by her late mom. “To my beautiful Clara,” reads the attached card. “Everything you need is inside. Love Mother.”
There is something inside. Trouble is, she doesn’t have the key required to open the egg. A party game at her godfather Drosselmeyer’s (Morgan Freeman) Christmas party leads her to the key but it remains out of reach, snatched up by a tiny mouse who lures Clara into the strange world of three Realms: Land of Snowflakes, Land of Flowers and Land of Sweets. There, with Phillip (Jayden Fowora-Knight), a soldier, and an army of mice she learns secrets about her past and embarks on adventures in search of the key. Who will help her—The Sugar Plum Fairy (Keira Knightley)? The Snow Realm King (Richard E. Grant)? Mother Ginger (Helen Mirren)?—and who will conspire against her? “It won’t be easy,” says Drosselmeyer, “but it was her mother’s dying wish.”
The opulence of the set design, the whimsy of the story, the use of classical music and ballet will draw comparisons to “Fantasia” but this is different. It’s part steampunk Christmas, part power princess tale about a girl who discovers, as her mother wrote, “everything you need is inside.”
Foy capably holds the centre of the film but it is Knightley who has all the fun. She’s a glittery-pink-powder-puff with cotton candy hair and a Betty Boop voice. She’s in full pantomime mode, grabbing the spirit of the piece with both hands. Her spirited performance brings such much-needed oomph to the film.
“The Nutcracker And The Four Realms” has some fun moments—the Mouse King is cool but perhaps on the nightmarish side for very small kids—and a timely message that we are stronger together than divided but often feels like an expensive Christmas card—beautiful to look at but flat.