YOU CAN only stretch things so far. This film is based very loosely on the Christmas staple The Nutcracker ballet, which tells the story of young Clara who is taken through a magical realm on Christmas Eve. The story is given a new twist and some diverse casting. In this version, Clara (Mackenzie Foy) and her two siblings are mourning the recent death of their mother. Just before they are supposed to attend a Christmas Eve party, their grieving father hands them each a gift that their mother had wanted them to have. Clara’s gift is an ornate silver egg that can’t be opened without a key. At the party, Clara’s godfather, Drosselmeyer (Morgan Freeman), sets the children off to hunt for their Christmas gifts, and as Clara follows the trail for hers, she ends up going through a mysterious corridor that opens to ... Narnia! Well, not really, but she does enter a mysterious new world. Instead of meeting a nice faun like the children who went to Narnia, Clara meets a pesky mouse who runs off with what was supposed to be her gift, the key to open the egg. With some help from Philip the Nutcracker soldier (Jayden Fowora-Knight) who guards a nearby bridge, she heads into an area called the Fourth Realm, and encounters the monstrous Mouse King and Mother Ginger (Helen Mirren). Clara and Phillip escape and head towards a castle, where they discover that Clara’s mother used to be queen there, and she brought to life all the denizens of the four realms. Sugar Plum Fairy (Kiera Knightley), the squeeky voiced regent for the realm of sweets, tells Clara that the unity of the realms has been in disarray since Clara’s mother left, and Mother Ginger is the cause of it. The only way to stop Mother Ginger is by finding the key that opens Clara’s gift. The same key helps start a machine that turns toys into living beings, and they can use it to raise an army to defeat Mother Ginger. However Clara eventually realises that not everything is as it seems. The only reference to the original ballet is a lovely dance (by ballet dancer Misty Copeland) in the middle of the movie set against Tchaikovsky’s score. There is also a more contemporary dance performance at the end credits. The movie does drag on a bit, and Foy’s portrayal of Clara can be annoying. The only person who seems to relish her role is Knightley, who hams it up occasionally. The sets are lavish, the colours are vibrant, and the ballet sequences are good. That’s about it.