If you’re going into The Nutcracker and the Four Realms expecting a full-on cinematic adaptation of The Nutcracker ballet, you’re likely to be disappointed. If, instead, you accept it for what it is, a glossy, family-friendly attempt at a new Christmas classic, then you’re going to get a movie that’s a bit more enjoyable but falls a bit short of that classic status it wants.
More than the original ballet, the film feels more like Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland (2010), leaning into the fantasy elements of the story and layering on tons of CGI and whimsy, while owing a lot to its production design. It also fleshes out the plot, making it more a film about processing grief. It does this in a pretty standard way (think The Wizard of Oz or The Lion, the Witch and The Wardrobe) as the film’s young protagonist Clara (Mackenzie Foy, Interstellar) is whisked away to a magical and strange world.
As a whole, it’s all pretty standard fantasy fare, with Clara trying to solve a puzzle left to her by her deceased mother while also preventing war between the four realms that she’s found herself in. This aspect of the story only mostly works, with the plot itself being a bit boilerplate and mostly acting as a vehicle for various creatures and adventures. The film does have some interesting things to say about war and aggression, but too often the CGI aspects of the movie can feel a bit out of place and too cartoony for a movie that has such a strong and appealing visual palette. Too often I found myself yearning for more solid practical effects, but I have that issue with every movie these days. It’s simply the current state of cinema.
There are also moments where the film draws from The Nutcracker ballet, specifically when dancer Misty Copeland performs around the midway point and during the end credits. There’s an energy here that’s unfortunately missing from the rest of the film despite some good performances from the cast. Keira Knightley as the Sugar Plum Fairy is obviously having fun in a role that allows her to overdo things a bit (a seeming rarity for her), while Helen Mirren continues to be Helen Mirren. And while they add a classiness and professional nature to the movie whenever they’re on screen, I do think the film’s missing a bit of the fancifulness that the dance numbers hint at.
None of this really wrecks the movie; it just makes for a film that’s basically really well-crafted and points toward a healthy imagination that never quite fully forms. But then again, besides the visual gloss, I never got the sense that the movie is attempting to be anything more ambitious than just a solid family fantasy. Within these modest aims, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is a success. Rated PG for some mild peril.
Now playing at AMC River Hills, Carolina Cinemark, Regal Biltmore Grande.