A Nutso Nutcracker

That’s a Lotta Realms!

If Santa Claus had a fever dream fueled by figgy pudding indigestion and an egg nog bender, his subsequent Yuletide hallucinations would probably look tame compared to Disney’s aggressively opulent phantasmagoria The Nutcracker and the Four Realms. Get ready for a towering Mouse King formed by thousands of teeming rodents, a mechanical giantess that gleefully throws people under her petticoat, Richard E. Grant’s Flock-of-Seagulls icicle wig and Keira Knightley literally eating her own hair.

Directed by: Lasse Hallström, Joe Johnston
Written by: Ashleigh Powell
Starring:Keira Knightley, Mackenzie Foy, Eugenio Derbez, Matthew Macfadyen, Richard E. Grant
Running time: 99 min.

What begins as a respectful reimagining of E.T.A. Hoffmann’s 1816 novella (which Alexandre Dumas updated in 1845 and Pyotr Tchaikovsky reinvented as a ballet in 1892) soon turns into a WTF Christmas-themed YA Girl Power story that stresses life lessons like “everything you need is inside,” all while vomiting up incessant candy-colored CGI landscapes and onion-domed castles powered by enormous watermills.

Omigod you look soooo cute

It’s a shame, since the original intent doesn’t feel too misguided. Throwing major Hollywood money at a beloved classic and hiring a European auteur (co-director Hallström) to add continental savoir-faire works at first. Hallström conjures the 19th-century frolicking of a bygone gilded class all aglow in sumptuous costumes and dazzling mansions. But the sparkle dims once reality sets in and this posh cinematic homage reveals itself to be just fancy skin covering for yet another generic action-adventure mash-up.

Sure, throw in a few spins from prima ballerina Misty Copeland, as she inexplicably pops up and expertly pirouettes her way through Tchaikovsky’s sublime score. That’ll lull audiences into submission before they realize that the gossamer melodies have melted into throbbing orchestral bombast (courtesy of Dark Knight maestro James Newton Howard) complementing a ridiculous plot that involves an enormous steampunk machine weaponized for out-and-out war against the mysterious Mother Ginger. Helen Mirren, well acquainted with maintaining dignity in even the most preposterous productions, barely holds it together here.

“Boys in uniform with weapons send a quiver right through me,” says the hot-and-bothered Sugar Plum Fairy (Knightley) in her baby doll voice, strongly suggesting a behind-the-scenes phalanx of studio execs urging the filmmakers to make this Nutcracker edgy and hip. Too bad the storytellers for this visually-enchanting whirligig didn’t stick to the original script.

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Stephen Garrett

Stephen Garrett is the former film editor of 'Time Out New York’ and has written about the movie industry for more than 20 years. A Rotten Tomatoes certified reviewer, Garrett is also the founder of Jump Cut, a marketing company that creates trailers and posters for independent, foreign-language, and documentary films.

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