The Nutcracker and the Four Realms
With its CGI-laden fantasy involving a young woman on a quest in a secret world, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms can’t escape comparisons to The Chronicles of Narnia and the recent live-action Alice in Wonderland films, but offers sufficient creativity to keep the overlaps minimal.
On an elaborate, generally entertaining treasure hunt to locate a key that will unlock a puzzle from her recently deceased mother, Clara (Interstellar’s Mackenzie Foy, ably carrying the film) unwittingly leaves her ambiguous Victorian present for the titular magical land just beyond the walls of the estate owned by her inventor godfather Drosselmeyer (Morgan Freeman).
Helping overcome the Oscar-winner puzzlingly in Magical Negro mode yet again is the encouraging diverse casting of newcomer Jayden Fowora-Knight as the loyal nutcracker soldier. He and Foy mesh well with the visually appealing rulers of the three allegedly good realms, played by Keira Knightly (using Marilyn Monroe’s sexy kitten voice to varying degrees of success), an icicle-obscured Richard E. Grant and a flower-covered Eugenio Derbez (Overboard).
Despite its overarching production design of fairly standard expensive effects work, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is bolstered by cool steampunk imagery here and there, especially the mobile compound of exiled realm honcho Mother Ginger (Helen Mirren).
Sporting surprisingly compatible overall direction from original hire Lasse Hallström and reshoot wizard Joe Johnston, the film isn’t afraid to go dark with an imaginative take on the Mouse King, as well as Mother Ginger’s Russian doll cloth clowns, which are creepier than the new Pennywise.
Elsewhere, elements such as would-be comedic banter between a pair of inept guards fall flat, but a commitment to kindness and eschewing any form of romance allow the potentially schmaltzy life lessons to feel honest and largely well-earned. Even to those for whom those messages play out in overly saccharine fashion, the frequent use of the eternally magnificent Tchaikovsky compositions and the filmmakers’ eye for 3D enhancements should be enough to warrant a view.
Grade: B. Rated PG. Now playing at AMC Classic, Biltmore Grande and Carolina Cinemark
(Photo: Walt Disney Studios)