Review: ‘The Nutcracker and the Four Realms’ Is Fine and Forgettable

Posted November 1, 2018 7:42 p.m. EDT

As with “A Christmas Carol” and the Grinch, every generation gets its own version of “The Nutcracker,” it seems.

The latest incarnation of the E.T.A. Hoffmann story is Lasse Hallstrom and Joe Johnston’s “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms,” a hokey oddity that glissades along with a few charms and a pleasant score by James Newton Howard heavily incorporating themes from Tchaikovsky’s ballet (though there’s little dancing).

Children who are 10 and younger may be enchanted by the abundantly whimsical holiday-themed visuals; accompanying adults might chuckle at the movie’s leaden attempt at a girl-empowering message. Anyone squeamish about rodents — even ones that have been rendered sort of cute by CGI — might consider steering clear.

On Christmas Eve in Victorian-era London, Clara (Mackenzie Foy), a budding inventor, receives a special, egg-shaped box left for her by her recently deceased mother. With it is a note that reads in part: “Everything you need is inside.” But lo! The key to unlock the egg is nowhere to be found, and thus her journey to discover what lies inside it (and, of course, herself) unfolds.

At his annual holiday celebration, Clara’s artisan godfather Drosselmeyer (Morgan Freeman, with an eye patch) leads her, “Alice in Wonderland"-like, to a new fantastical world — except instead of chasing a white rabbit, Clara chases a gray mouse that possesses the key she seeks. Once there, she meets the unfailingly loyal nutcracker Capt. Phillip (Jayden Fowora-Knight) and the regents of three realms: Snow (Richard E. Grant), Flowers (Eugenio Derbez) and Sweets (Keira Knightley, as the Sugar Plum Fairy). Clara also encounters the eerie, circus-y fourth realm and its leader, Mother Ginger (a typically game Helen Mirren); also, many more mice.

Knightley has quite a bit of fun with her role as the sprightly Sugar Plum, adopting a high-pitched, whack-a-doodle characterization that is Reese Witherspoon in “A Wrinkle in Time” meets Helena Bonham Carter in everything. Foy is fine as Clara — a “clever girl” as the movie likes to remind us — though Ashleigh Powell’s script gives the actress some of the film’s corniest moments.

Ballet dancer Misty Copeland, who makes a brief appearance during the film and in the closing credits, is the highlight, gracefully unhindered by silly dialogue in two dance sequences. But ultimately, “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms” is a family holiday movie that will do well enough for now; it probably won’t linger in your memory long enough to make it until the next inevitable adaptation comes around.


“The Nutcracker and the Four Realms" is rated PG. Running time: 1 hour 39 minutes.