Adventure Family

Review: ‘The Nutcracker and the Four Realms’ Brings Toys to Life

November 1, 2018Ben MK

A teenage girl from 18th century London is transported to a fantastical, faraway world in The Nutcracker and the Four Realms. But when an evil threatens the land, it's up to her to save this kingdom divided from destruction.

It's Christmas Eve, and Clara Stahlbaum (Mackenzie Foy), her older sister Louise (Ellie Bamber), and her younger brother Fritz (Tom Sweet) have each received a gift from their grieving father (Matthew Macfayden) on behalf of their inventor mother Marie (Anna Madeley), who recently passed away. But unlike her siblings' presents, Clara's gift — an ornately decorated egg that cannot be opened without a very special key — carries with it an extra air of mystery.

Eager to discover what secrets await her inside, Clara receives encouragement from her godfather, Drosselmeyer (Morgan Freeman), that evening at a party, and it's then that her quest to locate the key truly begins in earnest. Wandering through the vast halls of Drosselmeyer's home, Clara stumbles upon a passageway to a wintry wonderland, where she encounters a Nutcracker Captain named Phillip (Jayden Fowora-Knight), as well as the regents of three of the land's four realms — Shiver (Richard E. Grant), Hawthorne (Eugenia Derbez) and Sugar Plum (Keira Knightley) — all of whom were once toys that have been brought to life by an "engine" created by her mother.

But as Clara is told, it's the fourth realm that she has to be wary of. Ruled by the exiled Mother Ginger (Helen Mirren), this is where an eerie fog blankets the forest and an army of mice run rampant. And if Clara is to obtain the key needed to unlock the egg, it's also where she must inevitably venture. However, as she soon comes to realize, not everything is as it seems in this magical and foreboding place, and while sometimes a seemingly friendly face can be all too easy to find, it's not always apparent who the real enemy is.

Directed by Lasse Hallström and Joe Johnston, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is, for better or for worse, a film cut from a similar cloth as Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland and its sequel, Alice Through the Looking Glass. For while the movie may owe a debt to such classics as the Nutcracker Ballet and E.T.A. Hoffmann's short story, The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, it is very much its own thing, largely trading the balletic poetry many viewers might associate the title with for a much more visually eye-popping experience, where arabesques and grand jetés take a backseat to over-the-top costumes and CG environments.

That said, the result is not without its moments, even though those moments are almost always counterbalanced by bouts of questionable creative decision-making. With highlights that include Foy's performance as the lead character, who grows more headstrong as the film progresses, and lowlights that include Knightley's turn as a cotton-candy-colored fairy with a high-pitched voice, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms will appeal mostly to younger audiences, leaving more mature viewers out in the cold.

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms releases November 2nd, 2018 from Walt Disney Pictures. The film has an MPAA rating of PG for some mild peril. Its runtime is 1 hr. 39 min.

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