FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 2, 2018 -- If it's near holiday time, it must be time for a Disney princess movie. You know, the genre of movie that the Mouse House swore it wouldn't make again a few years back. [Oh, make no mistake, Moana was the daughter of the chief - a princess; so it counts.]


They made that announcement after "Princess Frog" didn't perform as well as expected. But then released "Frozen", live action "Cinderella", "Brave", "Frozen", "Tangled", and "Moana". Now comes this souped up version of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker ballet and E.T.A. Hoffmann's short story "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King."


At the helm if this ambitious project is Oscar nominated Swedish director Lasse Hallstrom ("A Dog's Purpose", "The Hundred Foot Journey", "Salmon Fishing in Yemen", "Chocolat", "Cider House Rules"). This is his first fantasy film and after Ava DuVernay's attempt with "A Wrinkle in Time", I was cautious going in.

The story revolves around a girl named Clara (Mackenzie Foy) whose mother has recently passed away; she, her father (Matthew Macfadyen) and siblings must try to move forward going into the Christmas holiday season. On the night of a gala party, her father gives the kids presents from the late mother; Clare's is a metal egg that requires a key to open the lock.


In her efforts to find the key, she seeks the guidance of her godfather Drosselmeyer (Morgan Freeman) who hints that she'll have to figure it out herself. That leads to an "Alice ins Wonderland" type of journey through a tree stump and into a mystical land of which she learns her late mother was queen.


The land consist of various small kingdoms which includes the Fourth Realm - an allegedly eivil territory run by the evil Mother Ginger (Helen Mirren). The other realms are overseen by Hawthorne (Eugeio Derbaz), Shiver (Richard Grant) and Sugarplum (Keira Knightley). Accompanying Clara is Nutcracker Captain Phillip (Jayden Fowora-Knight).


Their quest for the key will take them into the Fourth Realm, into a Byzantine Russian onion dome castle of good folk and into battles with tin soldier and swarming mice. It's rather quaint, though very predictable with a great deal of attention being paid to the costuming, as usual. No one character or actor really stands out, though there is a cute homage to "Fantasia" that old time Disney fans will notice.


The film is rather short on the music from the great ballet however. Of special note is African American prima-ballerina Misty Copeland's appearance as the ballerina princess.


"The Nutcracker and the Four Realms" basically continues Disney's tradition of bringing fantasy to the big screen, filled with whimsy, music, dance, a moral lesson and - of course, a Disney princess.   -- GRADE C --   GEOFF BURTON