Of German origin, nutcracker dolls are a Christmas tradition. No longer used for cracking nuts, they are merely decorative, and associated with the festive season. This film is a Disney adaptation from classic stories by E.T.A. Hoffmann and Marius Petipa; about how a girl is given a doll box as a gift at Christmas, and how the possession of this box leads her to discover parallel fantasy realms to the real one she lives in with her father and siblings. The ballet by Tchaikovsky, ’The Nutcracker’, based on the same sources, adds to the richness of textures that are connected with this adaptation.
The film has heroes and villains, all of them women. Much like ‘Alice in Wonderful’ when she is led down a rabbit hole, Clara (Mackenzie Foy), is guided along by a mouse who has the key to the box she has gifted to her on Christmas Eve. She travels to the forbidden Four Realms, where time moves much faster than in the real world, so much so that when she returns from all her elongated adventures, she is still on time for the Christmas dance for which her father, brother and sister are waiting.
The Sugar Plum Fairy (Kiera Knightly) in the second adventure is the pièce de résistance of the movie. She is full of syrupy sweetness when she meets Clara, extolling her virtues and lavishing praise on her courage. But the moment Clara manages to extract the elusive key from Mother Ginger (Helen Mirren), the ruler of the Fourth Realm, she is a vindictive witch. A control freak, she uses the key to open the machinery that can bring nutcracker dolls to life. Her most sinister action is to animate the soldier dolls, so that hundreds of them turn into an entire marching army that can defeat all the other realms, and bring them to their knees. The soldiers take orders only from the Sugar Plum Fairy, and the way actress Knightly exults in this power game; in turns coy, sexual, coquettish and manipulative, is very entertaining.
The visual effects in this 3D film are excellent, but where the film gets bogged down is in the telling. The narrative is ponderously slow and takes forever to unravel. For a Disney film there is just not enough action. Nor are there, apart from a moving mountain of mice, enough quaint creatures to engross us with. Finally, the jokes are poor. Two funny guardsmen who do slapstick comedy is the extent of how low the yardstick is in this department.
‘The Nutcracker and the Four Realms’ is a pleasant enough diversion, but overall, a disappointing Disney production.