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The Nutcracker and the Four Realms – Movie Review

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The Nutcracker and the Four Realms – Movie Review

Rating: B (Good)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Walt Disney Studios

The Nutcracker is an example of a story where the music inspired by it is more well known than the actual tale itself. The filmmakers behind The Nutcracker and the Four Realms use this as an opportunity to go in a different direction. While it does follow the standard fantasy template with the young heroine who ventures off to a magical land, directors Lasse Hallstrom and Joe Johnston have crafted a visually impressive world heightened by Tchaikovsky’s famous compositions. The movie even throws in a few ballet sequences for good measure. This is a charming large scale production that wouldn’t have been out of place in MGM’s production pipeline during the 1940s.

The film immediately evokes a Chronicles of Narnia and Alice in Wonderland feel when Mackenzie Foy’s Clara arrives in the snowy Four Realms. While recent fantasy films have chosen to apply a “prophecy” to the lead characters’ journey, which has become a tired trope, The Nutcracker avoids that and gets straight to the point by merely having Clara be an heir to the kingdom. It’s a rather refreshing change of pace. Running around ninety-five minutes minus credits, the film happily doesn’t waste much time in establishing the Four Realms and the heroine’s quest. Hallstrom and Johnston fill the screen with plenty of visual delights as the film clips along nicely.

Production designer Guy Hendrix Dyas and costume designer Jenny Beavan bring to life a candy-coloured world, while director of photography Linus Sandgren highlights the various realms with eye-popping amazement and wonder. One of the major sequences is a ballet number headlined by Misty Copeland, which both works as an impressive piece of choreography and a way to provide exposition. Tchaikovsky’s music has been integrated well, with the filmmakers choosing the proper places to use it. It’s difficult not to smile when the “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” and the “Waltz of the Flowers” start playing. There is a clearly a lot of respect for the original ballet and musical pieces from everyone involved in the production.

Remembering that Disney has previously adapted The Nutcracker in animated form, the filmmakers also make sure to throw in a reference to Fantasia. Of the actors, the highlight ends up being Keira Knightley as the Sugar Plum Fairy. She is absolutely enjoying herself in the role and it almost seems like she has wanted to give this sort of performance for a long time. While The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is a lighthearted adventure for the most part, the darker and creepier scenes also leave an impression. A group of circus clowns working for Helen Mirren’s Mother Ginger might be the most nightmare inducing characters to appear in a Disney film since the Wheelers in Return of Oz.

While one can certainly sense a familiarity to the story concocted for The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, there’s a reason it’s been a well worn template for many fantasy stories. This is an uncynical film that mostly wants to whisk the audience away to another world. While Joe Johnston’s directing credit mostly comes from taking over the reshoots from Lasse Hallstrom, the movie doesn’t feel like visions are competing. Everyone on board, including Ashleigh Powell with her first screenwriting credit, seemed intent on making a straightforward fantasy adventure and they succeed. That the film has plenty of imagination and incredible visual splendor adds further charm to what will hopefully be an annual holiday viewing tradition.


Stefan Ellison

Stefan Ellison