With The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, Keira Knightley probably represents the first of many action star toon adaptations of an innocent Christmas carol, but this one, which follows about a young girl’s quest to bring home the only gingerbread man ever to visit heaven, might be the first to be good. It’s visually stunning, remarkably strange and really, really funny — all in all, I’d say it belongs right up there with last year’s The Lego Movie, illustrating that great Christmas movies can have a pungent mix of political comment (instead of wearing green, the Gingerbread Man is an olive-skinned woman) and light-hearted entertainment. So kudos to the kid: The boy, for his part, is adorable, and director Lasse Hallström, who just won the Best Director Golden Globe (for The Foreigner), keeps the movie moving forward at the same excellent pace.
You might be surprised to find yourself rooting for a Victorian girl to come through, but you’d also be surprised to discover that in that stilted “white witch vs. black witch” subplot, you might be the right person, because The Nutcracker and the Four Realms gets “dreams” right, too. Right, like 7,000 of them, all over their city-wide sub-world — including the world of the Sugar Plum Fairy herself, as played here by the affable Mackenzie Foy, who had previously been overshadowed by Emma Watson in The New Beauty and the Beast.
The only bright spot is a terrific supporting turn by a crotchety, well-read, ill-at-ease Winston Churchill. I only wish he would have had a little more dialogue, because he’s actually funny, and Michael K. Williams, as a black man named Jacob, is endlessly entertaining. (If you have any fears of just how dark the movie might get, you’ll take comfort in knowing that, in a fun bit of playfulness, the ghosts from the other worlds all speak in a lower, lower, lower octave.) The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is for adults only, and certainly for anyone not old enough to have their own box set to hook them up. And yet, I can’t wait to see the (limited) home video version. It looks spectacular.