If you’ve ever wondered whether the classic Christmas tale of The Nutcracker could become a gaudy hero-journey narrative, I guess the answer is now, “Sure?” In Victorian London, young Clara (Mackenzie Foy) mourns the recent passing of her mother with her dad (Angus Macfayden) and siblings, making the Christmas Eve party at the home of Clara’s godfather Drosselmeyer (Morgan Freeman) less than festive. But Clara’s search for her Christmas present leads her to a strange land, where a war instigated by Mother Ginger (Helen Mirren) looms. Ashleigh Powell’s screenplay draws from plenty of vintage sources—notably the Narnia saga, as Clara emerges from a portal into a wintry forest where she’s hailed as royalty—and it’s satisfying to see the young female protagonist presented as technologically savvy. It’s also a tale where the mythology feels fairly thin, and the CGI spectacle threatens to overwhelm everything on the way to the obvious life lessons. A few satisfying visual tidbits—including creepy nesting-doll clowns and a nod to Disney’s Fantasia—mix with Tchaikovsky’s beloved score for a family adventure that pushes all the right buttons, but doesn’t quite achieve the magic it aims for.
Director: Lasse Hallström and Joe Johnston
Producer: Mark Gordon, Larry Franco, Sara Smith and Lindy Goldstein
Cast: Keira Knightley, Mackenzie Foy, Misty Copeland, Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman, Eugenio Derbez, Richard Grant, Jayden Fowora-Knight, Matthew Macfadyen, Anna Madeley, Ellie Bamber, Thomas Sweet, Omid Djalili, Jack Whitehall and Sergei Polunin