The story centers on Clara (Mackenzie Foy), a serious-minded teenager still reeling from the death of her mother (Anna Madeley). She can't understand why her father (Matthew Macfadyen) acts as if nothing has happened when everything has happened. During an elaborate Christmas ball, she forgoes dancing in favor of spending time with her godfather (Morgan Freeman) in his workshop, decoratively crammed with all his various mechanical inventions. She wonders if he might have a tool that would unlock the locked silver egg that her mother bequeathed to her. Turns out he doesn't, but he engineers a long, golden thread that transports her into a parallel world, which is comprised of four realms - the Land of Flowers, ruled by Hawthorne (Eugenio Derbez), the Land of Snowflakes, headed by Shiver (Richard E. Grant), the Sugar Plum Fairy's Land of Sweets, and the Land of Amusements, which is presided over by Mother Ginger (Helen Mirren). Clara discovers that her mother was the Queen of the Four Realms. The Sugar Plum Fairy, Hawthorne, and Shiver have been in conflict with Mother Ginger and they believe that Clara has arrived to help restore peace and harmony to all of the realms.
There's quite a lot that's missing in this adaptation of the holiday perennial, namely a sense of magic and wonder, not to mention focus, cohesion, and a sense of purpose. It may seem curmudgeonly to collect such cavils, but The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is the kind of hollow confection that brings out one's inner Scrooge or Grinch. Instead, it's a mishmash of The Chronicles of Narnia, A Wrinkle in Time, and Tim Burton's version of Alice in Wonderland that at least outclasses those two films, and most others, with its sensational production design courtesy of Guy Hendrix Dyas. Dyas and Beavan's efforts are so impressive that they nearly detract from the film's trudging narrative.
Despite all the glitz and glamour, the film’s best scene is ironically an exposition-heavy ballet sequence featuring a cameo from legendary ballerina Misty Copeland. For a brief moment, you can catch a glimpse of genuine Disney magic as Copeland twirls through a divine collection of practical sets, whisking us away into fantasy without the impedance of CGI and succeeding purely on the merits of the talent of the scene’s central star and classic studio craftsmanship. Simultaneously, the sequence reminds you of the condescension of Disney’s lack of faith in its audience, having Knightley shrilly interrupt Copeland’s performance with exposition instead of letting the ballerina’s work speak for itself. Disney can’t even trust kids to understand a straightforward ballet, so the scene ends quickly and we’re back to the lights show.
Speaking of Keira Knightley, this is a performance so deeply, deeply ill-advised that her agent might need to start checking the classifieds in the near future. Equipped with a pipsqueak accent guaranteed to make your skin crawl, Knightley interprets the Sugar Plum Fairy as an early career Helena Bonham Carter zonked out on opioids. It’s a performance that you know is the result of heavy-handed studio guidance, as Knightley is normally an actor too good to turn in this kind of amateur work. Blame it on the script for not only making Knightley insufferable but also for making her the star of the show. Sure, Mackenzie Foy is the lead, but she and Fowora-Knight are given so little to do outside of propelling the plot forward and delivering lines ripped from Hobby Lobby kitchen decor that Knightley is the only person doing anything interesting here, as godawful as that work may be. Mirren, Freeman, and virtually any other actor of note in this thing are present for what feels like mere seconds, here only to provide hokey life lessons and collect the subsequent paycheck.
The best way I can sum up this movie is this is as bizarre a confectionary cinematic creation as any I’ve seen in quite some time, and I’m honestly shocked that a studio like Disney would give this one the go-ahead to begin production let alone grant it a full-blown theatrical release. If life is like a box of chocolates, then The Nutcracker And The Four Realms (2018) is a bumper selection pack. I'm going to give The Nutcracker and The Four Realms a 3 out of 10.