Disney’s live-action adaptation of the Nutcracker had me reaching for my popcorn and a Christmas jumper right from the opening scene. I admit, it’s refreshing to be free of Santa tropes.
The film opens with Clara (Mackenzie Foy) testing out her latest invention and soon transcends into magic and whimsy. A gift from her mother and help from her god father (Morgan Freeman) sees her transported to a magical world, where four realms are at war and not all is as sweet as it seems.
After encountering a rather dastardly CGI mouse who steals her gift, Clara enlists the help of the Nutcracker. Surprisingly, The Nutcracker (Jayden Fowora-Knight) for all his namesake remains a fairly minor character throughout. He warns Clara of the dangers of following the mice into the Realm of Amusements, lorded over by Mother Ginger (Helen Mirren), but his protestations fall on deaf ears.
Running off into the dark forest of a forbidden realm is never a good idea; the mice are terrifyingly well organised, and the horrors prove too much for the pair. Retreating to safety, the Nutcracker brings Clara to meet the rulers of the three realms.
Once there, Clara is inundated with praise and gifts, and meets those her mother once ruled over. Quickly befriending Sugar Plum (Keira Knightley), she finds herself travelling with a host of troops back into the forest. And by quickly befriending, I mean very quickly – within a few short scenes the pair are thick as thieves and Clara already knows how to command her men.
Perhaps the slowest and most in-depth (happily, for me) scenes throughout are those of the adapted ballet sequence performed by Misty Copeland. The dance tells of how Clara’s mother discovered the world, and how it fell into war and became fractured. Here, we get glimpses of the Candy, Snowflake and Flower Realms – although of course, nothing much about the Realm of Amusements.
Quickly, the film descends into chaos. Despite the mouse waving the key in Clara’s face throughout, I almost forgot the point of the whole trip was to retrieve what was stolen from her. Her newfound friendship with Sugar Plum eclipses everything else and at times I even saw the fight scenes as filler until we got back to the real story – that of Sugar Plum and her need for revenge. It seemed that Clara herself was falling into the background, overshadowed by extravagant gowns and a host of CGI mice.
When we return to the castle, much is revealed about Sugar Plum, Mother Ginger and the truth behind the war. Once more, we are quickly thrown into a new story arc. The fight scenes are suspenseful as well as humorous, a tough feat, but one that is carried out well.
But they are over quickly. The excitement draws to an end as abruptly as it started. Clara returns home leaving the viewer hoping for just a little more adventure. Just a little more magic.
I found myself, for the most part, drawn in to the story. Although I wonder how much of my enjoyment came from not having seen the trailer. Or my love of ballet.