What ensues from there, though, is mostly a mess, one that largely squanders topnotch actors (Helen Mirren, Richard E. Grant) hidden under flamboyant costumes. The exception — in terms of injecting any pep into the proceedings — would be Keira Knightley as Sugar Plum, one of the regents of the Four Realms, who mixes a breathless, elfin voice with a flighty manner that falls somewhere between animated doll and Marilyn Monroe.
Credited to dual directors Lasse Hallstrom (“A Dog’s Purpose”) and Joe Johnson (“Captain America: The First Avenger,” who was brought in later to oversee reshoots), “The Nutcracker” feels like a project assembled by committee, with almost nary an original note, either in the story beats or the production design. Nor is there much jeopardy built into the action, which is abundant, though it’s hard to tell exactly for what age group this PG-rated exercise is intended.
The young leads — including the dashing Nutcracker (Jayden Fowora-Knight) who accompanies Clara on her quest — are fine, but as drawn, their characters barely occupy one dimension. All that leaves, really, are those familiar strains composed by Tchaikovsky, a cute mouse and plenty of questions about pouring what looks like a lot of money into such a flimsy foundation.
Of course, Disney has the “Wreck-it Ralph” and “Mary Poppins” sequels waiting in the wings, so its holidays still figure to be reasonably festive. One suspects the studio will have to rely on those movies to stuff its stockings, after “The Nutcracker” makes what should be a quick exit from the theatrical realm.
“The Nutcracker and the Four Realms” premieres November 2 in the United States. It’s rated PG.