WARNING: Mild spoilers ahead
Before you watch this movie, I would advise you to do this—go and print out a poster saying ‘TRUST IN YOURSELF’ in big bold letters. Now stare at it for two hours while blasting Tchaikovsky’s music on full volume. Voila! I have given you the Nutcracker experience at no cost at all. You can thank me later.
As it gives me immense pain to write anything negative about a Disney movie, I shall provide you with the positives first. The movie is definitely a visual treat. Filled with rich, vibrant colour, elaborate set pieces and over the top costumes, the Nutcracker and the Four Realms definitely does not disappoint in the aesthetics area. And then there is Keira Knightley on helium, always a delightful sight. With Effie Trinket presumably her fashion idol, Knightley’s Sugar Plum Fairy gleefully prances and preens her way through phrases like ‘tres chic!’ and ‘oh pooh!’ that no one but Knightley could pull off. The music, ah the music. Those who admire Tchaikovsky’s mesmerising pieces will be well pleased to spot the Waltz of the Flowers played at an actual waltz, as well as the liberal sprinklings of other Nutcracker pieces like Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy throughout the score composed by James Newton Howard of King Kong, Hunger Games, and Fantastic Beasts fame.
To all the OG Tchaikovsky fans out there, the plot of the movie has very little to do with the original classic ballet. For those expecting actual ballet, the entire movie has about five awe-inspiring minutes of it, not counting the end credits which feature a separate performance by professionals Misty Copeland and Sergei Polunin. To be honest, the end credits turn out to be one of the most memorable scenes of the film, which really says something.
The cast is led by Mackenzie Foy (whose CV includes the infamous Twilight series), who plays Clara, the Driven Girl with A Mission. You know, like Alice in Wonderland, or Lucy Pevensie, or Katniss Everdeen. Foy gives an uneven performance at best, but perhaps the script is more to be blamed for that with its very obvious dialogues and less than witty repartee. She does show tons of potential for her first leading role. Foy’s Clara recently lost her mother (because Disney has a strange aversion to lead children with both parents) and finds it difficult to connect with her father (a rather wooden Mathew Macfayden).
In her search for closure and answers, she ends up in a strange land during her godfather Drosselmeyer’s party. Morgan Freeman tries his best with Drosselmeyer’s supposedly eccentric character but makes him look more dignified than strange (because Morgan Freeman). Then again, it must be hard to do much when all you have is a weird wig, a CGI owl and a glorified cameo to work with. Clara finds the regents of the four realms and is tasked with the responsibility of saving them, with the help of the titular Nutcracker, played by Jayden Fowora-Knight and relegated to a side role that barely clings on to one dimension. Helen Mirren is there, kicking tin soldier butt and being awesome for about ten minutes. Nick Mohammed and Omid Djalili provide much needed comic relief, although it would have been great to have them for more time.
Side note: I would definitely advise you not to watch this movie if you suffer from a fear of rodents— the film features plenty of them. Admittedly, they are rather cute, but don’t take unnecessary risks.
All in all, the Nutcracker is really not that bad. It never actually claimed to be anything other than what it is—good, old fashioned Disney holiday magic that you can watch with your non-rodent-fearing family. There is beautiful music, great landscapes, magical lands and Keira Knightley snacking on her cotton candy hair. What more could one want? Be prepared though—this movie might leave you with a weird craving for Narnia and a shot of insulin.
Film: The Nutcracker and the Four Realms
Cast: Mackenzie Foy, Jayden Fowora-Knight, Keira Knightley, Mathew Macfayden, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren
Director: Lasse Hallström and Joe Johnston