Disney’s latest live action film “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms” puts a spin on a beloved Christmas classic, bringing it from the stage to the screen.
“The Nutcracker and the Four Realms,” directed by Lasse Hallström and Joe Johnston, brings a new look to author E.T.A. Hoffmann’s classic tale. Along with Hoffmann’s “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King,” it also infuses elements of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker ballet, all to give a new twist on a Christmas classic.
The movie follows Clara (Mackenzie Foy), an inventive young girl reeling from the death of her mother. On Christmas Eve, she’s given an ornate box left by her late mother, with a hidden message inside but no key to open it. At her godfather Drosselmeyer’s (Morgan Freeman) Christmas party, Clara finds a golden thread which unexpectedly guides her to a fantastical land.
There, Clara meets a nutcracker soldier (Jayden Fowora-Knight) as she ventures into the ostracized Land of Amusements, where Mother Ginger (Helen Mirren) and her trickster gang of mice reside. With the help of the three regents — Shiver of the Land of Snowflakes (Richard E. Grant), Hawthorne of the Land of Flowers (Eugenio Derbez) and Sugar Plum of the Land of Sweets (Keira Knightley) — Clara sets out to not only find her key but help the realms from the darkness lurking in the Land of Amusements.
This movie is a visual wonder. Every set, costume and scene is a decadent feast for the eyes. Award-winning costume designer Jenny Beavan outdid herself with every look. From Clara’s lovely lavender dress to her breathtaking white and gold light up ensemble, the costumes draw the audience into the magical world and never let go.
“The Nutcracker and the Four Realms” also includes two dance sequences that are visually dazzling. The movie doesn’t draw material from Tchaikovsky’s ballet as much as it does from Hoffmann’s story, which is a shame as the dance scenes are beautiful.
Professional ballet dancer Misty Copeland explains the story of Clara’s mother and her creation of the four realms almost completely through dance with occasional narration by the sugary voice of Sugar Plum. Copeland captivates the audience as she glides across the stage with colorful flowers sprouting wherever her feet land. Her face is expressive, and her movements are as smooth as silk, making the visuals around her secondary to her impressive performance.
Even though they are stunning, the film’s visuals can only carry it so far. The story itself is a fairly simple adventure and comes with an almost too predictable twist. The cast is wonderful, and with only a little over an hour of runtime, the exposition is heavily on Clara. It creates a loss of opportunity. In such a rich world, characters such as Fowora-Knight’s nutcracker are given too little to do. Mirren’s Mother Ginger is also an example of a character who has absolutely fascinating hints of a backstory yet given a surprisingly weak storyline.
While most of the plot is not as captivating as the visuals around them, the exploration of grief in this film is stunning. The four realms is a creation of Clara’s mother and translates as an adventure towards Clara’s healing. The holidays are a time to be with family, and this film explores the pain of being without them. It’s a powerful sentiment that is portrayed beautifully from Foy’s Clara through her anger, her confusion and wonder. Also, the subdued, though sometimes too bruting, grief of Matthew Macfadyen as her father is one to marvel at as he painfully tries to keep everything the way it used to be. The grief also spills over the four realms’ inhabitants as they, too, feel the loss of Clara’s mother.
“The Nutcracker and the Four Realms” is a wonder despite its flaws. It may even be one of Disney’s best live action films since “Cinderella.” It’s a decadent film with surprising emotional depth and is perfect for the holidays.
“The Nutcracker and the Four Realms”
Runtime: 100 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG