Thursday, November 1, 2018

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms

Adapted from E. T. A. Hoffmann's short story "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King," The Nutcracker and the Four Realms offers big budget Disney family entertainment filled to the brim with special effects and lessons about believing in yourself and sticking by family in tough times. While it incorporates much of the ballet's music into its score (and adds a couple of notable ballet sequence as well), The Nutcracker and the Four Realms goes for a more straightforward Wizard of Oz-style tale with a young female protagonist lost in a magical world.

Mackenzie Foy stars as Clara Stahlbaum. Still grieving over her mother's (Anna Madeley) recent death, and struggling to get along with her father (Matthew Macfadyen) and siblings (Tom Sweet and Ellie Bamber), Clara discovers a magical world her mother created which is divided into Four Realms (Flower, Snowflake, Sweet, and a rebelling realm which is no longer mentioned). Traveling to the new world by way of her godfather (Morgan Freeman), Clara goes in search of a key which has the power to change the world and literally open the last secret left to Clara by her mother.

The cast is rounded out by the odd characters Clara meets in the magical world including Keira Knightley, Helen Mirren, Eugenio Derbez, and Richard E. Grant as the rulers of the Four Realms, and Jayden Fowora-Knight as Clara's most trustworthy friend the Nutcracker. There are also plenty of CGI characters including the mice who play an important role in leading Clara to explore the Four Realms and make an important decision about embracing her role in the world. I didn't see the film in 3D, but there are several sequences, including the flight of the owl which opens the film, which look specifically designed for 3D screenings (and feel a bit too noticeably 3D-inspired in regular 2D).

Foy is well-cast as the film's heart, and handles Clara's range of emotions quite well. While some of the other smaller characters are rather forgettable, I also enjoyed Keira Knightley as the bubbly Sugar Plum Fairy. As much spectacle as story, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms quite resembles the cotton candy Sugar Plum munches on when nervous. If lightweight, with a couple of lulls in the story, the movie does succeed in producing a fun family adventure. While some might be put off by the rats (in multiple scenes, swarms of hundreds of rats converge to create a giant creature), there's nothing else here to frighten off families or younger children. It is very likely some may be angry by the film diverging so far from the ballet framing its story through dance (which is only incorporated in a couple of sequences in the film, one of which is proves to be an intriguing use of mostly practical effects), those looking for more of a mainstream tale of magic realms and a heroic struggle by a plucky female protagonist will find a fun, if flawed, adventure to enjoy.

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