‘The Nutcracker and the Four Realms’ is a shell of the ballet
“The Nutcracker and the Four Realms”? What in the cuckoo Christmas blasphemy is this?
Disney, continuing on its inexorable death march to add more war to soft and beautiful classic childhood stories, has plucked all the feathers from Tchaikovsky and Petipa’s holiday ballet and tossed a bunch of glitter and circus clowns at its quivering carcass.
This is your warning that if you have any affinity for the ballet, avoid this at all costs.
This take on “The Nutcracker,” written by Ashleigh Powell in her screenwriting debut, somehow directed by both Lasse Hallstrom and Joe Johnston, takes merely a few key elements of the ballet and then tosses them into a blender, along with “Alice and Wonderland,” “The Greatest Showman” and Stanley Tucci in “The Hunger Games,” to create something wildly kooky and more violent. And yet it’s got incredibly low stakes, and it’s a mere shadow of what “The Nutcracker” actually is.
Sure, “girl falls asleep on Christmas Eve and dreams an awesome dance show” isn’t a whole lot of plot. But the story this team has come up with is rife with insidious Disney story fetishes, including the addition of the requisite dead mother to offer pathos and motivation for our heroine. Clara (Mackenzie Foy) is obsessed with science and an engineering genius, which will come in handy later when facing the other Disney obsession of late (giant clock gears).
Set off on a wild goose chase by a mysterious gift from her mother, guided by her godfather Drosselmeyer (Morgan Freeman), Clara happens into a magical passageway and ends up in the snowy world of the Four Realms, which was invented for this movie and truly has no consequence on the story at all. They are the Realm of Flowers, headed up by Hawthorne (Eugenio Derbez), the Realm of Snowflakes, led by Shivers (Richard E. Grant in truly disfiguring icicle bangs) and the Realm of Sweets, ruled by a squeaky-voiced, cotton candy-haired Sugarplum (Keira Knightley, making some odd choices). The last realm is the Realm of Amusements, where Mother Ginger (Helen Mirren) has been banished with her team of Russian nesting doll clowns.
Turns out Clara’s mother was somehow the absentee queen of the tiny world that exists in a clock, and there’s a power struggle in her absence. Civil war, deceit and laser-zapped reanimated tin soldiers abound, but Clara realizes everything she needs to lead as princess is inside, which takes her entirely too long to figure out, since her mother wrote that exact phrase on a note. Subtext is text, which means even in this wacky-as-heck “Nutcracker: Rise of the Machines,” moments drag.
A film adaptation of “The Nutcracker” doesn’t have to be faithful, but the story they’ve concocted is so lazily tossed off, the style so derivative and the lessons so mundane they would have been better off sticking to the original story by E.T.A. Hoffmann and throwing a razzle-dazzle production budget at the choreography, as the best part of “Nutcracker and the Four Realms” is the oh-so-short sequence where ballerina Misty Copeland dances through an abridged version of the ballet. To salt the wound, they only use a few excerpts of Tchaikovsky’s music.
Turns out the excess of realms (and cooks in the kitchen) results in hardly any holiday magic at all.
‘THE NUTCRACKER AND THE FOUR REALMS’
Cast: Keira Knightley, Helen Mirren, Mackenzie Foy, Matthew Macfadyen, Morgan Freeman, Richard E. Grant, Eugenio Derbez.
Directed by Lasse Hallstrom and Joe Johnston.
Running time: 1 hour 39 minutes.
Rated PG for some mild peril.