"The Nutcracker and the Four Realms" is wildly colorful and fairly frenetic, with numerous pleasures along the way. But its late scenes seem to run out of steam, as if the movie starts coming down too early from its sugar overload. Rating: 2.5 stars out of 4.
Take the beloved “Nutcracker” ballet, mix it up in a festive vat with equal parts of “The Chronicles of Narnia,” “The Wizard of Oz,” the “Harry Potter” series and a whole lot of Halloween candy, add some insanely (but gloriously) over-the-top scenery and costumes, subtract any narrative coherence and slap some remixed Tchaikovsky on the whole thing — and you’ll get “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms,” an enjoyably nutty more-is-more family holiday extravaganza. Don’t go expecting much ballet, though dancers Misty Copeland and Sergei Polunin make two brief, bravura appearances; this is a coming-of-age adventure, in which a resourceful teenage girl travels to a magic land.
That girl, Clara (Mackenzie Foy), lives with her widowed father (Matthew Macfadyen) and siblings (Ellie Bamber, Thomas Sweet) in Victorian-era London, where she constructs elaborate mousetraps illustrating the laws of physics, and tries not to think about the loss of her mother. On Christmas Eve, she’s given a present that her mother had put away for her: a locked box, with a missing key. After a visit to her magical godfather Drosselmayer (an amused Morgan Freeman), Clara follows a golden string that leads her through a wardrobe, oops, no, it’s a magical portal to the Land of Sweets, the Land of Snowflakes, the Land of Flowers and the mysterious Fourth Realm, ruled over by a wearily malevolent-looking Mother Ginger (Helen Mirren).
It’s all wildly colorful and fairly frenetic, and its late scenes seem to run out of steam, as if the movie starts coming down too early from its sugar overload. But there are numerous pleasures along the way, such as Keira Knightley’s helium-voiced Sugar Plum, who has a charming habit of breaking off bits of her cotton-candy coiffure and eating them; Foy’s sweetly determined, smart Clara; a lot of very cute mouse close-ups; and that turned-up-to-11 production and costume design (by Guy Hendrix Dyas and Jenny Beavan, respectively) which leaves no corner or seam unadorned.
I’ve no idea what this “Nutcracker” looks like in 3D (even in 2D, it was like being caught in a sparkly pastel snowstorm), but I suspect kids who love color and spectacle might enjoy it. As did I, even though I felt a need to go lie down afterward.
★★½ “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms,” with Keira Knightley, Mackenzie Foy, Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman, Eugenio Derbez, Richard E. Grant, Jayden Fowora-Knight. Directed by Lasse Hallstrom and Joe Johnson, from a screenplay by Ashleigh Powell, based on “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” by E.T.A. Hoffmann and the “Nutcracker” ballet by Marius Petipa. 100 minutes. Rated PG for some mild peril. Opens Nov. 2 at multiple theaters.