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Review: ‘The Nutcracker and the Four Realms’ is a candy-coated venture (Includes first-hand account)

There are Christmas traditions that are passed down through generations and even though they may not be unique to one family, they are observed annually because over the years they’ve come to have personal meaning. A film, a book, a recipe or a ritual, simple or complex, individually or as a group, there is no wrong way to celebrate. For some, the tale of the Nutcracker has taken on significance. Whether it’s watching a favourite version or reading the story, attending an annual performance or displaying the wooden figure, this creative fantasy is a holiday custom in many homes. Now, some may choose to add The Nutcracker and the Four Realms to the mix.

Clara’s (Mackenzie Foy) mother recently died and she resents her father’s (Matthew Macfadyen) efforts to go on with Christmas as usual. However, she becomes distracted when she receives her mother’s last gift: a silver, locked egg for which she doesn’t have a key. While attending the yearly Christmas Eve party at her Godfather Drosselmeyer’s (Morgan Freeman) home, she stumbles into another world where the key is taken by a mischievous mouse. She meets the last of the nutcracker soldiers, Phillip (Jayden Fowora-Knight), and attends the castle where she learns about this mysterious dimension’s four realms and its rulers: flowers, snowflakes, sweets and amusement — though the leader of the latter, Mother Ginger (Helen Mirren), has been excommunicated for ill-behaviour. Sugar Plum (Keira Knightley) quickly befriends Clara and the two band together to save the kingdom… but the threat isn’t as clear as it first seems.

Like her mother, Clara is an inventive child who enjoys tinkering and building elaborate contraptions to amuse her younger brother. Drosselmeyer is also an inventor and he enjoys nurturing her inherited talents. However, her abilities are only made useful at the beginning and end of the narrative — in between, she’s just a strong-willed young woman in awe of everything around her to the extent that she can’t see what’s coming. Then there’s the obvious similarities to C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as Clara discovers a secret passage to a magical dimension filled with fantastical creatures and learns she’s the only one who can save the kingdom.

Nonetheless, the aesthetic is expectedly rich and fanciful. The costumes and make-up of those who inhabit the four realms are elaborate and imaginative. The realms’ representatives are particularly ornate as each is a perfect symbol of their respective domain: Hawthorne (Eugenio Derbez) is a portrait of colourful blossoms; Shiver (Richard E. Grant) is adorned in icicles and sprinkled with flurries; Sugar Plum is wrapped in cotton candy, which comes in handy at times; and Mother Ginger sports a more rugged, versatile version of a ringmaster’s uniform. Clara’s attire changes frequently throughout the story, each suited to its particular occasion.

The tale is enchanting, though the lack of music is conspicuous and the ending is a little underwhelming. The plan to save the four realms unfolds quickly and concludes somewhat abruptly, though there are some impressive displays of bravery from Clara and her allies. It’s an entertaining family adventure that may not replace the original, but it will make a fitting companion piece for years to come.

Directors: Lasse Hallström and Joe Johnston
Starring: Mackenzie Foy, Keira Knightley and Morgan Freeman

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