‘The Nutcracker’ gets a jump on Thanksgiving
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.