The Nutcracker story is a seasonal classic, whether you prefer the Tchaikovsky ballet, the Tom And Jerry cartoon or even the Barbie animated version. Unfortunately, this Disney live action re-imagining is unlikely to make anyone’s ‘best Christmas movies’ list, for while it looks impressive it lacks the charm, warmth and magic you’d expect from the story of a whimsical land populated by characters such as the Mouse King and the Sugar Plum Fairy.
In Victorian London, young Clara (Foy) and her siblings are preparing for their first Christmas without their late mother. Their father (Macfayden) gives each of them a last present from her, and Clara’s turns out to be an ornate metal egg with a keyhole but no key. During a lavish Christmas party she takes it to her inventor godfather (Freeman) but he is unable to open it. Happily, an elaborate present hunt takes Clara from the halls of his mansion into another world (via an upturned tree), where she finds the key she needs and encounters an enchanting place that is part-Narnia and part-Wonderland.
While Tchiakovsky’s beautiful music is heard throughout, it is just one of the many elements trying to shoehorn itself into a predictable story about realms that are at war for no apparent reason. CGI elements abound – the Mouse King, made up of hundreds of individual mice, looks great but may freak out younger viewers – while impressive sets, lavish costumes and the starry cast fight for our attention.
Unfortunately most of that cast are given only fleeting screen time, with Richard E Grant (as Shiver), Helen Mirren (as Mother Ginger) most neglected, and while Keira Knightley gets more scenes as Sugar Plum, you wish she had even more, especially as she plays the classic character as a sort of Cyndi Lauper pixie.
The ballet, too, gets sidelined, with the sole dance sequence featuring Misty Copeland used simply to explain the realms’ back story to Clara (the only other dance appears over the end credits and is worth staying for). Fans of the Nutcracker story, meanwhile, will be annoyed that key characters’ personalities are changed and the central romance between Clara and Philip (demoted here from prince to soldier) turned into a dull friendship.
On the plus side, the central theme of a girl finding her inner strength and confidence is a good one, and, thanks to a strong performance from Foy, her journey is what makes this so-so adventure worth watching.
Is The Nutcracker And The Four Realms suitable for kids? Here are our parents’ notes...
As mentioned in the review above, the Mouse King is made of hundreds of swarming brown mice, which may scare young children, especially as on two occasions they crawl over characters and envelop them.
Younger (under-9) viewers may also find Mother Ginger, and her giant carnival figure, frightening.
She is guarded by acrobatic clowns some children may find sinister.
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