Disney’s big-budget attempt to adapt E.T.A. Hoffmann’s 1816 fantasy and Tchaikovsky’s ballet is a muddled mess, comparable to “A Wrinkle in Time.”
In Victorian London, the story begins with inventive young Clara Stahlbaum (Mackenzie Foy) in the attic demonstrating her elaborate Rube Goldberg-type mousetrap to her younger brother Fritz (Tom Sweet).
Although their mother Marie (Anna Madeley) recently died, their doleful father (Matthew Macfadyen) and older sister Louise (Ellie Bamber) are determined to celebrate the holiday. Clara’s gift is an ornate egg-shaped box with a cryptic message “Everything you needs is inside.” But there’s no key.
On Christmas Eve, Clara’s eccentric godfather Drosselmeyer (Morgan Freeman) traditionally sets up an elaborate treasure hunt, so each child can find his/her own gift. Clara’s is the key, which is promptly snatched by a mischievous mouse, leading her into an “Alice in Wonderland”-ish parallel world where time moves faster.
On her quest, Clara is befriended by a Nutcracker soldier, Capt. Philip Hoffman (Jayden Fowora-Knight), who tells her that her mother was queen of the Four Realms. So Clara is greeted as a princess by Sugar Plum (Keira Knightley with cotton candy hair) from the Land of Sweets, Hawthorne (Eugenio Derbetz) from the Land of the Flowers and icicle-bearded Shiver (Richard E. Grant) from the Land of Snowflakes.
Clara’s told that the fourth realm belongs to towering Mother Ginger (Helen Mirren), who has declared war, and Clara is expected to stop it because her mother — mechanical-minded Marie — created this living Toyland through engineering/physics. But, of course, things are not as they seem.
Meanwhile, lovely ballerina Misty Copeland twirls on a picture-book stage set and there’s a gigantic CGI mouse that’s comprised of a multitude of tiny mice moving as one.
So what went wrong?
Perhaps it began with Ashleigh Powell’s revisionist script which was subsequently changed by the original director Lasse Hallstrom, then replacement director Joe Johnson — with additional material by uncredited Tom McCarthy. Lacking a unified vision, both directors wallow in chaotic, extravagant details.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms” is a dizzying, floundering 5. Bah, humbug!