Disney film captivatingly returns to familiar Nutcracker story
Walt Disney Studios is famous for its adaptations and movies of well known stories; the release of The Nutcracker and the Four Realms should come as no surprise. While keeping some aspects of the source materials — E.T.A. Hoffmann’s short story “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” and Marius Pepita’s “Nutcracker Ballet” — Disney’s adaption changes a significant amount of plot line and some of the important characters from familiar adaptations like the 1986 film Nutcracker. Audiences that are coming to the theater expecting a typical Christmas movie are in for a surprise.
The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is a darker take on a story typically appropriate for all audiences. The movie starts off with young Clara, played by Mackenzie Foy, receiving a two-part Christmas present from both her father and Drosselmeyer, her godfather. In this new telling, the gift is not a toy nutcracker, but rather a present that reflects who Clara is and what she can become. This does, however, lead her to the Nutcracker, who she learns is a loyal protector and eventually a friend.
A few other characters in the realm are introduced as well; the Flower Cavalier, the Snow Cavalier, Mother Ginger and the infamous Sugar Plum fairy played by Keira Knightley. Knightley plays her character in a spectacular way, bringing life to Sugar Plum in a way that is over-exaggerated, but in keeping with the reasonable expectations of a fairy.
Mother Ginger, played by Helen Mirren, is a dynamic character first introduced to the audience in a way that leaves them wondering about the truth of the real mastermind behind the problems in the four realms. The continuation of her character's story will have audience members gasping in their seats.
While the plot of The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is captivating, the same can’t be said about its execution. Based out of a ballet and as an adaptation, it could be expected that this movie would have a hint of ballet in it as well.
However, the only dancing seen is when Clara first visits the realms and she is told the story of the realms’ making and how their world came to be through a ballet pageant. Other than that, Clara herself is not engaged in any ballet, which is a disappointment for fans of earlier versions. The lack of ballet takes away the magical, wispy moments of the “Nutcracker” story.
There is barely any magic at all, for a world in which toys come to life. The magic stems from magic-seeming supernatural beings, as in the fairies and mice that come together and build one big mouse. Magic is a reason for why time is slower in Clara’s world than in the realms, but the toys coming to life is explained through scientific concepts, giving a more modern twist to the story.
Clara and her mother are both inventors and engineers and that is shown in the movie when Drosselmeyer invites Clara to help him fix an invention, as a small test of her skills. Clara takes a leap of faith with her scientific skills and the probability of them working, using physics to help get her out of a tricky situation.
If directors Lasse Hallström and Joe Johnston wanted their film to be more modern and science-focused, then they should have spun that idea more into the story.
However, audiences are left without enough; neither enough magic nor enough science hold up the story and give a proper explanation of how the creatures came to be.
Another interesting creative choice is not having the Nutcracker as a main character. The struggle is focused mostly on Clara with the Nutcracker used as a background character that grows into someone she trusts. But he is not enough of a major part to her story, considering how crucial he was in earlier versions.
Most of the critique for the movie is in the way it lacks the ballet themes and the relationship between Clara and the Nutcracker. The overall movie, while lacking a few details, is interesting and captivating.
While it could have been better executed, at no point does it make the audience lose interest in what is happening to the main character. For those new to the story of “The Nutcracker,” this movie would certainly be an entertaining way to be introduced.