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'The Nutcracker and the Four Realms' review: A fruitcake of a movie, nutty and stale

Keira Knightley is the Sugar Plum Fairy and

Keira Knightley is the Sugar Plum Fairy and Mackenzie Foy is Clara in "The Nutcracker and the Four Realms." Credit: Walt Disney Pictures/Laurie Sparham

PLOT On Christmas Eve, a grieving girl embarks on a magical adventure.

CAST Mackenzie Foy, Keira Knightley, Helen Mirren

RATED PG (action and some scary scenes)


BOTTOM LINE A fruitcake of a movie, nutty and stale.

In America, Disney and “The Nutcracker” have a long history together, almost as long as “The Nutcracker” and Christmas itself. Back in 1940, Disney’s “Fantasia” included an animated segment based on the Russian ballet — an ahead-of-the-curve choice. Not for many years would “The Nutcracker” became a seasonal favorite known for keeping American dance companies financially solvent. Next time you see a local production, remember: Disney got there first.

What a shame, then, that Disney’s latest version, “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms,” is a near-total disaster. The story of a 14-year-old girl, Clara (Mackenzie Foy), who discovers a magical world. “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms” cobbles together bits of the Tchaikovsky-scored ballet, the E.T.A. Hoffmann tale that inspired it and just about every fantasy film ever made, from “The Wizard of Oz” to the “Narnia” films. The script is by Ashleigh Powell, but this “Nutcracker” is so utterly generic and bizarrely random that it could have been generated by bots.

To wit: Set in Ye Olde London, “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms” begins in earnest when Clara receives a Christmas Eve present left by her dead mother: a silver egg with a missing key. The egg was created by her godfather, Drosselmeyer (Morgan Freeman), an inventor who might have magical powers, if his pet owl, eye patch  and Smithsonian-size laboratory are any indication. After their talk together, Clara somehow winds up in a Narnia-like winter wonderland.

“What the --” she says, a sentence I’d love to hear her finish. But Clara is too busy chasing Mouserinks, a rodent who has the key to her egg. Mouserinks leads her to the nutcracker soldier  Phillip (a mumbly Jayden Fowora-Knight), who in turns leads her to a kingdom where Clara’s very own mother was once queen. Now it’s up to Clara to battle Mother Ginger, a 30-foot-tall ventriloquist’s dummy that contains Helen Mirren.

Intermission! Here’s Misty Copeland, of the American Ballet Theatre, to dance-splain the history of the realms. It’s beautiful and baffling. Back to the movie.

Directed first by Lasse Hallstrom and then by Joe Johnston, “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms” continues on its way, a blur of spooky forests, fireflies, tin soldiers and computer-generated mice. Only a saucy Keira Knightley, as Sugar Plum Fairy, keeps us even vaguely interested. Someone call the Grinch before this “Nutcracker” ruins Christmas.


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