Every Christmas when we were growing up, our beloved great aunt gave us all new nutcrackers. Her generous consistency caused a minor population crisis, the house overcrowded with tiny wooden men brandishing Yuletide chompers. Thus do I consider myself the target demographic for The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, Disney’s new holiday fantasy. Short version of this review: Too many realms, not enough nutcracker. But there is one lovely dance number. And a gigantic mouse that’s actually (gross! cool!) a swarm of mice moving as one. And what other film this season features Keira Knightley as a breathy-voiced French fairy with mothwings eating her own pink hair like cotton candy? No other film, I tell you, not even Suspiria.
Nutcracker stars Mackenzie Foy as Clara, an inventive teen in horsedrawn-carriage London. Her mother just died, because Disney’s got a dead-parent quota to meet. In her grief, Clara wanders into a fantasy world, which features various candy-colored landscapes encircling a castle that looks like Red Square mashed with Cloud City. She meets a nutcracker (Jayden Fowora-Knight), and the two set off on an extremely expository adventure through some sets and lotsa bland CGI. The tale’s somewhat adapted from the Nutcracker ballet, and there’s a blissfully extended bit of choreography featuring real-life dance star Misty Copeland. That sequence is a wonder. The movie itself just stops to watch her dance for awhile. I wish it stopped entirely. That dance number, combined with the choreography that plays over the end credits, imply that this Nutcracker could’ve been a riotous family-fun dance movie.
Nutcracker credits two different directors, Lasse Hallström and Joe Johnston. Sadly, like last year’s heavily-reshot Justice League and anything subtitled A Star Wars Story, this product just feels eerily undirected, an act of community recycling. The specific spare parts here turn into a Narnian regurgitation, the sort of bland saga where characters stand in front of a greenscreen explaining everything that’s happening all the time. Morgan Freeman and Helen Mirren pop up, but criminally never share the screen, so that’s one reason to say the unfortunate phrase “RED did it better.” A nifty mid-movie set piece involves freakish creatures who resemble living nesting dolls, but the story itself has no feeling of newness, becoming another Princess-y Chosen One tale where heartstrings are tugged until they snap.
At least this One deserves to be Chosen. Foy played Kristen Stewart’s daughter in the two weirdest Twilight movies, after Stewart played Jodie Foster’s daughter in Panic Room. That’s a hell of a cinematic lineage, and the rare quiet moments in Nutcracker suggest Foy might be a real movie star. Let’s give her a real movie and find out. C