Since her mother passed away, Clara (Mackenzie Foy) has felt lost. For Christmas, she receives an egg-shaped box and is told in a note that all she needs is inside it. Clara’s search for the key to unlock it transports her to a magical kingdom known as the Four Realms. There she meets some wonderful characters, including the Sugar Plum Fairy (Keira Knightley) and a soldier named Captain Philip Hoffman (Jayden Fowora-Knight).
Disney’s live-action movies have gained a rep for their excessive CGI. While pleasing to the eye for all, its lavishness, colour and sparkle is primarily targeted at children. This is supported by the fact that story-wise, as with classic children’s stories, it follows a character going on an adventure in a fantastical land. Better still, as is every little girl’s dream, she discovers she’s a princess. Parents will not look forward to a sequence in which children’s gifts are hidden via a rope with their name on it leading to its hiding place. Guess how the kids will want their next Christmas presents to be given?
Clara, at least, is a sweet, creative character, who loves inventing and experimenting. Foy does a good job at bringing her to life and makes an appealing lead. Newcomer Jayden Fowora-Knight also proves charming as her loyal guardsman. Unfortunately, they are surrounded by a cast who are just phoning it in – though grant you, given their thin characterisation, you can’t blame them.
Morgan Freeman plays Morgan Freeman with an eye patch and has so little screen time you wonder how his appearance even warrants a credit. Helen Mirren only appears at the end and her character is lame, even when armed with a whip (don’t ask). Matthew Macfadyen does sad face as the mourning father while Jack Whitehall is thrown in for some basic comic relief. As for first billing Keira Knightley, her performance seems to be inspired by both Anne Hathaway and Helena Bonham Carter in Disney’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’. Again, her character could have been so much more.
Speaking of ‘Alice in Wonderland’, it seems to be that film and Disney’s ‘Chronicles of Narnia’ that provide the big reference points for the film, rather than the two-act ballet that is the most famous adaptation of its source. The film references the ballet in the form of two dance sequences involving the famous ballerina Misty Copeland. Unfortunately, these scenes are dull and lifeless, signifying another missed opportunity. One can’t help but think of Gene Kelly’s choreography, what we’ve seen in ‘The Red Shoes’, or more recently, in ‘Black Swan.’ Ballet can be cinematic and beautiful, but only when handled by an able director(s).
By the final third of the film, it’s clear the story has not only totally lost steam but directors Lasse Hallström and Joe Johnston hadn’t a clue how they wanted to finish the film. The conclusive battle falls flat on its arse (literally) and you can see the ‘twist’ that precedes it coming a mile away. Send the children to it but spare yourself.