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Murray Journal

Dan's Review: "The Nutcracker and the Four Realms" is not the classic you thought

Nov 01, 2018 06:00PM ● By Dan Metcalf

Keira Knightley and Mackenzie Foy in The Nutcracker and the Four Realms - © 2018 Disney.

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms (Disney)

Rated PG for some mild peril. 

Starring Keira Knightley, Mackenzie Foy, Eugenio Derbez, Matthew Macfadyen, Richard E. Grant, Misty Copeland, Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman, Jayden Fowora-Knight, Miranda Hart, Jack Whitehall, Ellie Bamber, Tom Sweet, Anna Madeley, Lil Buck.

Written by Ashleigh Powell and Tom McCarthy, based on "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King" by E. T. A. Hoffmann and "The Nutcracker" ballet by Marius Petipa, with music adapted from Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.

Directed by Lasse Hallström and Joe Johnston.



The proverbial warning of “don’t mess with the classics” never seemed to influence the folks at Disney. The studio is more than willing to re-write, reboot, and repurpose all kinds of content, usually their own. No longer content with retreading their own stuff, Disney is taking on another classic with their reimagining of Pepita and Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker” ballet in The Nutcracker and the Four Realms.

Mackenzie Foy plays the lovely young Clara Stahlbaum, who lives in London with her father Matthew MacFayden) older sister Louise (Ellie Bamber) and brat little brother Fritz (Tom Sweet). As the children prepare for Christmas, they are still reeling from the recent death of their mother Marie (Anna Madeley). Before heading out to a party hosted by their godfather Drosselmeyer (Morgan Freeman), the children’s father imparts Christmas gifts to them, left by their mother before her death. Clara receives a golden egg with a lock, but no key. They go to Drosselmeyer’s party, where Clara seeks advice on how to open the egg. Drosselmeyer leads Clara to a hidden magical land where she finds the key just as a mouse runs off with it. During her chase to retrieve the key from the mouse, she meets a nutcracker soldier named Captain Philip (Jayden Fowora-Knight). Philip leads her to a large castle where three very important rulers of the four realms reside. They include the Flower Realm King (Eugenio Derbez), the Snow Realm King (Richard E. Grant) and the Sugar Plum Fairy (Keira Knightley), ruler of the Sweet Realm. A fourth leader named Mother Ginger (Helen Mirren) is disfigured ruler of the Fourth Realm (or Realm of Amusements) and has been banished by the others. Clara gets a quick lesson in the hierarchy of the realms with a hasty ballet performance (from Misty Copeland) and learns that Mother Ginger is the bad ruler who ruined the peace between the realms and that the key will also unlock the power of a machine that will put her rest for good. She also learns that her mother was once queen of all realms, and she is her rightful heir. Determined to retrieve the key, Clara and Philip take a small army into the Fourth Realm to face Mother Ginger and her scary clowns – along with the Mouse King (motion capture acted by Lil Buck as a computer-generated being comprised of thousands of mice). Clara gets the key but discovers she has been deceived about the truth behind Mother Ginger’s banishment as the magical machine that is soon used to build a tin soldier army. Clara must find new allies to defeat the evil plot. She must also summon her courage and wit (like her mother) to discover what’s really important in her real life.

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms doesn’t have a lot going for it. Yes, for what little dancing there is, it’s compelling and beautiful. The rest of the movie is a convoluted mess, including a shaky story premise that doesn’t resemble much of the ballet (in all fairness, the ballet’s story is pretty artless itself), and more than a little strange and incoherently drawn characters. I’m not sure if this disconnect has anything to do with having two directors (Lasse Hallström and Joe Johnston), but the difference in style between the two couldn’t be wider (Hallström is more of an artisan type while Johnston is your go-to action/adventure director). The strangeness of the costumes, sets, and characters of the Realms is especially painful to watch as if you’d run into Tim Burton on a bender. 

The simplistic “moral” of the story in The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is sweet and charming, but also very unoriginal, as if the writers pulled it from a Rolodex (The power is within you!”). I’m also puzzled as to why Disney thought it would be a good idea to “reimagine” such a cultural classic. I’m not suggesting that this movie will ruin the perennial dance favorite for everyone, but if it’s the only “Nutcracker” your kids' experience, they might be tainted for life, deprived of the beauty of the famous ballet.     

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms Trailer