Clara (Mackenzie Foy) is about to spend her first Christmas without her mother, who has passed away this year. She still has her father (Matthew Macfadyen) and elder sister and little brother, but has preferred to shut herself away in the attic of their London townhouse, performing science experiments and inventing contraptions. But her surviving parent insists on them attending a festive dance this evening, though before she (reluctantly) goes, he gives her and the siblings the presents their mother wished them to have, even though it is Christmas Eve. To Clara is a decorative egg, and she can't help but feel disappointed as she wanted something more - but it is in need of a key.
The Nutcracker and the Four Realms suffered a terrible kicking at the box office, and did not too well critically either, as while it was blatantly Disney trying to replicate the success of their Johnny Depp-led Alice in Wonderland, fans of the Nutcracker ballet and stories were not happy at what they had done to the classic material. Dismayingly, a lot of the opprobrium appeared to be because the fans didn't like the colourblind casting, as the Nutcracker himself was played by Jayden Fowora-Knight, obviously not a white actor, and he was regarded as weak in the story as well when Clara was forced to come to his rescue in the latter stages. So it was not your grandmother's Nutcracker.
Or even your great-great-grandmother's Nutcracker, however for a story to endure it is important to adapt to the times, that even applies to Bible parables, and if you cannot apply them to current eras then they tend to look a little dusty. Tchaikovsky's music for his ballet endures, of course, but that is because it is restaged over and over with variations to keep it fresh, and you could see the same thing being done with the post-Maleficent Disneyfication of the now getting on a bit yarn. It definitely was not enormously faithful, but as a heartfelt appeal to the little girls in the audience it was a lot more effective than the legions of naysayers might have cared to admit. Not helping were the reshoots that necessitated two directors taking credit - it looked messy.
Anyway, forget the negativity and you had a perfectly decent fairy tale that had been designed to within an inch of its life, though yet again the Disney plot point of a previously friendly character turning out to be the main antagonist suggested a lot of writers at the company were suffering trust issues. Either that or they needed to think up a new plot. Anyway, Clara is given a The Wizard of Oz or The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe trope to get her into the titular Four Realms, courtesy of Morgan Freeman of all people (apparently filmed before the sex pest allegations, which nevertheless shade the scenes he appears in by whisking a young girl away from the big event for his own secret reasons). Once he is out of the way, you can settle down with a set of worlds that showed incredible dedication to detail.
Not all of it satisfying, and some of the humour fell flat (sorry, Omid Djalili and Jack Whitehall), but once Clara was introduced to Keira Knightley the whole thing brightened considerably, as the star was another showing dedication: her blatant belief in the property boosted what might have been pretty but rather bland. It was she who generated the laughs as The Sugarplum Fairy (though taking a mouthful of her candy floss hair was more unsettling than funny), whereas the other British thesps in the cast were somewhat swamped by elaborate costume and makeup design: Richard E. Grant was almost only recognisable by his voice. Helen Mirren was the ostensible villain, though you could latch onto the big twist coming fairly early on, and there was some actual ballet courtesy of Misty Copeland, brave in a Fantasia way, bringing culture to the masses whether they liked it or not... they didn't - and the culture vultures didn't appreciate it either. It was, on the other hand, easy to predict a cult following in a Labyrinth style for those who caught it at the right age and with no preconceptions. Other music by James Newton Howard.
[NUTCRACKER AND THE FOUR REALMS IS OUT NOW ON DIGITAL DOWNLOAD, DVD AND BLU-RAY.]