‘Nutcracker and the Four Realms’ destroys a classic story
Thinking of shaking up your holiday tradition this year and heading to the “Nutcracker” movie instead of the ballet? Don’t tear up those Tchaikovsky tickets just yet, because Disney’s new riff sleighs the beloved tale.
“The Nutcracker and the Four Realms” warps little Clara’s (Mackenzie Foy) journey to the magical land of sugar plum fairies and royal mice into a dark political allegory — exactly what audiences are craving! — filled with propaganda and smear campaigns. Some of the powerful characters you thought were good are evil and vice versa. It’s like “Wicked,” but wretched.
The revamp starts off in a particularly dreary Victorian London. There’s so much soot and shadow there, you’ll wish Jack the Ripper would show up to lighten the mood. Clara, her father and siblings are riding to Drosselmeyer’s (Morgan Freeman) house for his annual blowout. But everybody is mopey because Clara’s mom has recently died. Don’t hold your breath for moments of happiness or uplift. There aren’t any.
When the kids go off on the hunt for their gifts from toymaker Drosselmeyer, Clara’s search leads her down a long hallway that opens up into a world ripped from “The Chronicles of Narnia.” She meets a nutcracker named Phillip (Jayden Fowora-Knight, the only good performance). And then the plot becomes nutty.
A realm’s leader named Sugar Plum (Keira Knightley) informs Clara that she is actually a princess, and that she must help defeat Mother Ginger (Helen Mirren), the least threatening villain ever. Much of this dumb, dense back story is loosely explained during — get this — a several-minute-long ballet sequence featuring Misty Copeland.
Some confusion is OK if there’s a joke here and there, a bit of wit, an ounce of fun. But odd-couple directors Lasse Hallström (“Chocolat”) and Joe Johnston (“Jurassic Park III”) are hellbent on keeping their movie brooding, sad and sedate. For instance: the Mouse King is turned from a fearsome beast into a disgusting mass of thousands of squirming mice that brought to mind the time dozens of rats stormed the West Village Taco Bell in 2007. Have a holly jolly Christmas.
The performances, by and large, range from bad to bland. Foy plays the supposed-to-be-innocent Clara like she’s a runway model named Svetlana. Knightley speaks in an obnoxious helium squeal. And Mirren is dressed as a carnival pirate.
You can find me at the ballet.
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