Girl power in gorgeous but numbing ‘Nutcracker’
What the family-friendly “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms” lacks in kinetic action sequences, it more than makes up for in visual resplendence. The film, codirected by Lasse Hallström (“Chocolat”) and Joe Johnston (“Jumanji”), also has its heartwarming moments, integral to a story that’s essentially about the loss of a family member, and timely topics including changing customs and girl power.
It follows the adventure of inquisitive teen Clara (Mackenzie Foy), whose penchant for realistic solutions to certain problems gives her a unique perspective of 19th-century London.
Inheriting a locked, egg-shaped container from her deceased mother, Clara is confounded to learn that the key is missing. Her older sister (Ellie Bamber) receives a dress, while their kid brother (Tom Sweet) gets a box of toy soldiers. It’s Christmas Eve, and their dour father (Matthew Macfadyen) dismisses Clara’s distress, opting instead to focus on the party they’ll be attending.
They’re visiting Drosselmeyer (Morgan Freeman), Clara’s wise and wealthy godfather. Skipping part of the revelries to visit the old mechanic’s workshop, Clara shows her late mother’s mentor the container, and explains her predicament.
Not long after, she finds herself in a snowy, pristine place, where the key is located. But, it’s stolen by a mouse that brings it to a forbidden part of the land.
Allying herself with the noble Nutcracker (Jayden Fowora-Knight), she is introduced to the plantlike Hawthorne (Eugenio Derbez); the fairy of sweets, Sugar Plum (Keira Knightley); and the ice-cold Shiver (Richard E. Grant)—who all knew Clara’s mom as the Queen.
Now performing her duties as princess, Clara must face the forbidden zone’s menacing Mother Ginger (Helen Mirren) to retrieve the key, which can also unlock one of her mom’s mighty inventions.
It’s nowhere near as epic (or as preachy) as the “Narnia” movies, but “The Nutcracker,” based on a short story and a ballet, looks otherworldly and magical, although the visuals wear thin after some time. It doesn’t have enough mythology to truly make the luscious visuals feel significant.
Knightley is an enchanting presence. She’s unrecognizable as the ethereal Sugar Plum, wielding a more Megan Mullally-ish vibe with her cutesy voice and more comical gait.
Foy, meanwhile, is charismatic as the young heroine, able to make dramatic scenes with older cast members feel genuine—even when some parts are engulfed in overwhelming artificiality.
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