Review: 'Nutcracker' trips over its own excesses

Last Updated by Chip Chandler on
"The Nutcracker and the Four Realms" is playing now.
Courtesy Disney

By Chip Chandler — Producer

With a headstrong heroine and fantastical journeys, The Nutcracker should be a natural fit for the Disney Princess formula.

But The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is a misstep all around, transforming the traditional ballet into a eye-searing CGI spectacle with a nonsensical plot.

Instead of a Wizard of Oz-style journey through the dreams of its heroine, Clara (Mackenzie Foy), Four Realms transports her to a magical world at war. Turns out, her late mother was queen, and in her absence, the realm's four lands (Flowers, Snowflakes, Sweets and Amusements) are torn asunder. 

Clara is one of three children, but she's the only Chosen One in this narrative. Her sister got a hand-me-down dress, and her brother a nutcracker — both a far cry from a throne.

She finds her way to the realms by way of a long thread at her godfather Drosselmeyer's (Morgan Freeman) holiday party, and even more so than Dorothy, she just jumps right into the action without question. Determined to find a key to unlock an ornate egg, Clara shows no hesitation into entering the forboding Land of Amusements, where she and a nutcracker soldier, Phillip (Jayden Fowara-Knight), are set upon by an army of skittering field mice that climb on top of each other to form a giant mouse made of mice. It doesn't make any more sense when you see it, trust me.

Nothing does, come to think of it. Screenwriter Ashleigh Powell piles a ton of mythology on top of this feather-weight fairy tale, but directors Lasse Hallstrom and Joe Johnston can't make the script sing.

After retreating to safety, Clara is told that Mother Ginger (Helen Mirren) is a bad guy and that she should trust the sticky-sweet Sugar Plum Fairy (played by Kiera Knightley) instead. Knightley has a delightful time chewing the scenery (and, in one icky aside, her own cotton-candy hair), and Mirren, too, has a little fun.

But both esteemed actresses are disadvantaged by a truncated script that leaves out character building and logic, apparently so more time can be spent on the visuals. Alas, outside one brief scene at the party and a credits sequence, those visuals don't incorporate much dance, the only reason this fairy tale still has relevance in 2018. The astounding ballet superstars Misty Copeland and Sergei Polunin

Kids deserve better than junk food like this. Save your dollars for a stage version of the classic tale instead.

(PG for some mild peril; click here for showtimes at United Artists Amarillo Star 14, 8275 W. Amarillo Blvd.; Cinergy Amarillo, 9201 Cinergy Square; and Cinemark Hollywood 16, 9100 Canyon Drive)

 

Chip Chandler is a producer for Panhandle PBS and a member of GALECA. He can be contacted at Chip.Chandler@actx.edu, at @chipchandler1 on Twitter and on Facebook.

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