Eye-Popping Visual Delight
Sugar plums and talking mice are to be expected in a Disney extravaganza, and the spectacular-looking The Nutcracker and the Four Realms doesn’t skimp on those two sure-fire winning combinations. Only this time there are no sugar plum fairies to sweeten the plot. We have one very evil sugar plum in the form of actress Keira Knightley. She’s beautiful and horrible and just wait until you get to know her. She’s not what she looks like on the surface. Beautifully gowned by costume designer Jenny Beaven, her appearance is deceiving. As in all Disney movies, there has to be a villain, and guess who it is this time?
As always, there must be an innocent Princess to be put into peril. However, this one doesn’t know about her Royal blood. Mom was a Queen, but she wanted her little girl to grow up as a normal little tyke with no aspirations to the throne. What the late mom did for Clara (Mackenzie Foy) is leave her a mysterious silver ball that has no key to open it. Aha! That’s what gives Morgan Freeman a reason to be in the movie with an eyepatch and a completely American accent. Clara plays a Brit through and through, but somehow Freeman, as Drosselmeyer (a German, yet!) seems to have dropped in from the sky just to help Clara find the key. Suspend realism.
Mackenzie Foy, 17 (The Twilight Saga), is a young American actress just beginning her career. Like the recipe for a holiday mince pie, she’s sweet enough not to be cloying. She finds herself journeying to the secret Realm where her mother was the supreme leader. Not like Kim Jong-Un, but benevolent. People loved her. Surprisingly, along the way, Clara gets joined by Captain Philip Hoffman (newcomer Jayden Fowora-Kinght), the Nutcracker. He’s tall and handsome and has skin like whipped chocolate pudding. He’s truly a fantasy military figure and a dreamboat as well. Determined to find the key to her questions, Clara hardly notices that he’s a hunk.
These two wade through some of the most elaborate and beautiful sets ever put on screen. With art direction by Nick Dent and Stuart Kearns as well as set decoration by Lisa Chugg and Naomi Leigh, audiences are dazzled by the use of gorgeous pastel colors and sprinkles of glitter. Their imaginations should be rewarded by Oscar® nominations. It makes sense why the budget ballooned to $132 million. It’s all on the screen.
Well, what could the filmmakers give to Oscar® winner Dame Helen Mirren to do? With such a prestigious actress in their midst, they came up with the wild character of Mother Ginger, who runs some sort of bizarre circus show in a tent. The makeup people went to town on her and gave her a cracked and aged face (she’s a young and beautiful 72 in real life), scraggly red fright wig, and bizarre costumes. Is she evil or good? Only subsequent scenes will reveal if she’s helpful to Clara or a menace. Mirren chews the scenery -- but in a good way, as only she can.
There are a few spectacular dance scenes sprinkled now and then in the film. The elaborate ball gowns and men’s frilly duds are some of the most beautiful ever designed, done brilliantly by Jenny Beaven again. The accompanying ballroom looks like a set designer’s dream.
The plot is not too complicated, which may be on purpose. The target viewers are impressionable young children with short attention spans. As such, screenwriters Ashleigh Powell and Tom McCarthy fashioned a story easy to follow. It’s all good, clean fun that the entire family can enjoy. It won’t tax your cerebral cortex or even your gluteus maximus as it is a tidy, swift 99 minutes in length. Enjoy it as a Holiday Candy Box.
(Released by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures and rated “PG” for some mild peril.)