Seeing The Nutcracker ballet is a holiday tradition for families, especially for mothers and daughters. Girls’ fascination with The Nutcracker didn’t go unnoticed by Disney. The studio decided to undertake the challenging task of bringing it to the big screen just in time for the Christmas season in the form of The Nutcracker and the Four Realms.
The challenge of adapting The Nutcracker into a two-hour feature film is that there isn’t really much to the story of the ballet in the first place. In the ballet, the first act is all about how young Clara receives a Nutcracker doll from her mysterious godfather, Drosselmeyer. That night the Nutcracker magically grows into a life-size soldier and does battle with the wicked Mouse King.
In the ballet Clara saves the Nutcracker’s life by throwing her shoe at the Mouse King (hard enough to kill it, apparently). In gratitude the Nutcracker takes her to his magical kingdom, where she meets the Sugar Plum Fairy and watches dancers representing various confections perform at the Palace of Sweets. When the dances are over, Clara bids the kingdom farewell, and she awakens from her beautiful dream in the shadow of her family’s giant Christmas tree.
Filmmakers have been challenged to create a compelling narrative from this enchanting though slight fairy tale. Some have failed quite miserably, but that isn’t the case with The Nutcracker and the Four Realms. Ballet fans and purists will definitely notice the significant differences between The Nutcracker ballet and The Nutcracker and the Four Realms. However, the movie takes a lot of creative license with successful results.
The story, while still a period piece, has been updated in the sense that Clara (Mackenzie Foy) is an intelligent, unique girl and a mechanical whiz. She feels at home only in the workshop of her godfather Drosselmeyer (Morgan Freeman). Her mother has recently passed away, and she needs to unlock an ornate music box that was her mother’s Christmas present to her, along with a message that everything she needs is inside the box. Drosselmeyer gently leads Clara to understand that she will need to unlock the music box herself to reveal its secrets. His gift to her, as it turns out, is to lead her towards the magical kingdom of the Four Realms once ruled by her mother. The Four Realms will remind many viewers of The Chronicles of Narnia.
It’s a world that her own mother helped create when she invented a magical machine to bring toys to life. But the Four Realms have fallen into disarray without their queen, and only Clara can help restore peace with the help of a life-size nutcracker soldier named Phillip (Jayden Fowora-Knight).
No fairy tale is complete without a villain, and this one has a few. There is the Mouse King, a rather strange figure formed by hundreds of mice crawling over each other (major “ick” factor). And then there is Mother Ginger (Helen Mirren), who if you’ve seen the ballet is the jolly giant lady with the children dancing out from under her skirt. She got power hungry in the movie and was banished by the other regents of the realms. Speaking of which, one of those regents is Sugar Plum (Keira Knightley), a squeaky-voiced vision in purple with cotton candy hair.
If I had one complaint, it’s that the Nutcracker toy isn’t featured prominently enough in the first part of the story to pay homage to the original ballet. Clara’s connection with the Nutcracker toy is so touching in the ballet, especially the tenderness she shows it after Fritz accidentally breaks it. That moment is missing from The Nutcracker and the Four Realms. However, the directors, including one of my all-time favorite directors Lasse Hallstrom (Chocolat), does a nice job of creatively developing iconic characters from The Nutcracker ballet. The women and girls are really the stars of this show, and it’s nice that they are empowered, and the actors have good material to work with. Prima ballerina Misty Copeland brings the ballet to The Nutcracker and the Four Realms by dancing to illustrate the story of how the Four Realms came to be. It’s a nice touch.
The trailers make this movie look scarier than it is. The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is rated G. I think six-year-olds and up could handle it, although there are some scary battle scenes. Drosselmeyer does use the “d” word once (why, Disney—is it really necessary?), and Sugar Plum talks suggestively about life-size toy soldiers (again, really?). But overall this is a fun movie outing for the whole family that can be a part of your family’s Nutcracker traditions.