The first fifteen minutes of The Nutcracker and the Four Realms spark with real imagination and wonder: Long-ago London is vividly recreated, with snowflakes flitting soundlessly to the cobblestones. Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite teases on the soundtrack during an elegant dance scene, replete with billowing ballgowns and Morgan Freeman handing out enchanted presents, and….damn it, Christmas is just magical. Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t pull a George Costanza and exit stage left while it’s still ahead. Instead, our plucky heroine ventures off to the Land of Dark and Confusing Drivel, and the script goes off the rails and into the ravine. Gorgeous production values and a lively lead performance can’t disguise the fact that this boring, derivative fairy tale belongs in the trash with the wrapping paper.
Our story begins with
Dorothy Alice Clara (Mackenzie Foy), an intrepid, mechanically-inclined girl still grieving over the loss of her mother. She and her siblings are trooped by their parochial father to an opulent Christmas ball, where a bored Clara sneaks away to admire the contraptions of her wild-eyed godfather (Morgan Freeman, supplying some brief gravitas-for-rent). He puts her on the path to Narnia an imperiled fantasy world brimming with beasts and treats and terrible villains. Clara learns that her mother was revered as a deity here, and her absence has created a struggle for power: Four regents, each representing each of the realms, foppishly titter around the new princess like annoying sycophants. One of them is out for the throne. This brings about two questions: 1) Can Clara find the royal stamina within her to save Oz this enchanted kingdom? 2) Will you even care by the time it happens?
Yeah, that’s gonna be a “no” for me, dog. And it’s too bad, because there’s a lot to admire here: I’ll say it again, this film is attractive. (Sumptuous will be my thesaurus word for the day.) Or…it’s well-built, like a shiny Mercedes garbage truck hauling five tons of trash. James Newton Howard delivers a catchy score that mingles the classic Nutcracker motifs with a few strong cues of his own. The special effects are on point, as is the cinematography. Everything money can buy is on display, which also serves as a tidy reminder of everything it can’t. The pacing is slow and the characters are painfully underwritten. A script that wasn’t so dark and unwieldy and actually invested our interest in Clara’s new world could’ve made this a Christmas classic.
In the end, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms isn’t just missing the Christmas spirit–it’s missing spirit of any kind. It’s an expensive, well-packaged product, built for seasonal consumption. With so many great Christmas movies out there–and that’s to say nothing of the friggin’ ballet that inspired this horse puckey–why would anyone want to watch anything with plastic soul like this?
Note: This film is rated PG, but there are some scary aspects for younger children. I mean, there is a monster composed of thousands of screaming, writhing rodents. Adults may piss their britches at the sight of it.