‘The Nutcracker’ gets a jump on Thanks­giv­ing

USA TODAY Weekend Extra - - FRONT PAGE - Brian Truitt

Dis­ney beats the hol­i­day movie crowd with a new live-ac­tion ver­sion of the E.T.A. Hoff­mann clas­sic.

The Hal­loween candy isn’t even eaten yet and we’re div­ing right into make-be­lieve lands with gi­ant gin­ger­bread men in “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms.”

Dis­ney’s new live-ac­tion ver­sion (in the­aters Fri­day) of the clas­sic E.T.A. Hoff­man story is a hol­i­day-ready tale cen­ter­ing on young Clara Stahlbaum (Mackenzie Foy) as she takes a fan­tasy jour­ney to a col­or­ful land­scape of war­ring fac­tions, where she has to save the day.

We know you may have burn­ing ques­tions about “Nutcracker,” so here are some (mostly) help­ful an­swers.

❚ First, why are we get­ting a “Nutcracker” movie, any­way? Dis­ney’s in a groove do­ing nonan­i­mated ver­sions of iconic sto­ries (“Alice in Won­der­land,” “Beauty and the Beast”), so this tracks with that mind­set.

Also, moolah: It’s good to get out in front of the fam­ily-friendly stuff that’s com­ing Thanks­giv­ing week­end.

❚ What’s the least we need to know go­ing in? Clara’s mom has re­cently died, and her fam­ily is feel­ing the loss on Christ­mas Eve as they ready to go to a swanky hol­i­day party. Her mother left Clara a mys­te­ri­ous locked metal egg with­out a key; at the shindig, Clara finds a lit­eral thread that leads her to the mag­i­cal Christ­mas Tree For­est and the en­try to a won­drous place.

❚ What’s up with these Four Realms? Ap­par­ently, Clara’s mom was the queen of a quar­tet of cool lo­cales, and her death led to a desta­bi­liza­tion. When Clara ar­rives, the Su­gar Plum Fairy (Keira Knight­ley, do­ing her best high-pitched Peppa Pig voice) is the re­gent of the Land of Sweets, Shiver (Richard E. Grant) leads the Land of Snowflakes, and Hawthorne (Eu­ge­nio Der­bez) heads up the Land of Flow­ers. They’re all gear­ing up for bat­tle against Mother Ginger (He­len Mir­ren), the tyran­ni­cal ma­tri­arch of the dark Fourth Realm (what once was the Land of Amuse­ments and now is just a place with re­ally creepy clowns).

❚ That all sounds pretty dry. Does it ever get in­ter­est­ing? With­out say­ing too much, there’s an ef­fec­tive and vil­lain­ous heel turn for one of the “good guys,” who then raises an army of Nutcracker au­toma­tons.

❚ Why does Mor­gan Free­man have an eye patch? An ex­cel­lent ques­tion – and one that isn’t ac­tu­ally an­swered. His wise in­ven­tor char­ac­ter, Drosselmeyer, is Clara’s god­fa­ther and raised her or­phaned mom.

There’s not nearly enough of him in this, though. (Give this man a pre­quel!)

❚ “Nutcracker” is a fa­mous bal­let. Any cool dance scenes? The high­light of the movie is real-life dance phe­nom Misty Copeland as a Bal­le­rina Princess who per­forms a mini­his­tory of the Four Realms to get Clara (and the au­di­ence) up to speed.

Bonus points for the vis­ual of Copeland danc­ing with a wind-up mouse the size of a hu­man. (There are a lot of mice in this movie.)

❚ Isn’t there well-known mu­sic as­so­ci­ated with “Nutcracker”? Oh, yeah, and we get snip­pets of Tchaikovsky’s great­est hits sprin­kled through­out.

For those more into mod­ern artists, An­drea Bo­celli and his 21-year-old son Mat­teo sing a new (and very Dis­ney) bal­lad, “Fall on Me,” dur­ing the end cred­its. It’s not bad!

❚ Who else is in the movie that we might know? You might remember Foy from her stint as a vam­pire kid in the “Twi­light” films. Matthew Mac­fadyen, whose mil­que­toasty char­ac­ter is a high­light of the HBO drama “Suc­ces­sion,” plays Clara’s sad dad. More no­table is new­comer Jay­den FoworaKnight, sport­ing an ad­ven­tur­ous John Boyega vibe, who co-stars as Capt. Phillip Hoff­man, the earnest Nutcracker sol­dier who’s also Clara’s earnest side­kick.

❚ Is this OK for my kids to see? Yeah, it has pretty broad ap­peal for lit­tle ones. The dead mom thing – a clas­sic Dis­ney trope – is a key as­pect but mainly used to in­spire Clara. The afore­men­tioned creepy clowns and Nutcracker au­toma­tons lean more play­ful than ac­tu­ally dan­ger­ous, and chil­dren will re­ally dig the bal­let stuff.

The only thing that may freak out kids – and some adults – is the Mouse King, a fearsome char­ac­ter made up of 60,000 com­puter-gen­er­ated squirm­ing mice. (Told you.)

❚ Do any ac­tual nuts get cracked dur­ing the film? Sadly, no. Though there are “cracks” in Mother Ginger’s face that sym­bol­ize her break­ing from the sta­tus quo.

❚ So is the movie any good? It’s pretty for­get­table. Un­re­al­ized po­ten­tial abounds in those fan­tasy worlds, and there’s quite a bit of over­act­ing (look­ing at you, Keira).

“Nutcracker” fans at least have the bal­let se­quence and the mu­sic, plus lit­tle girls have some heroic qual­i­ties to like in Clara, so it’s not a com­plete hol­i­day turkey.



Mackenzie Foy is Clara and Jay­den Fowora-Knight is Phillip the Nutcracker in Dis­ney’s “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms.”

Drosselmeyer (Mor­gan Free­man) is a wise old world trav­eler.

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