Disney’s Nutcracker and the Four Realms is packed full of a lot of things I really love.
Sometimes, I see a trailer for a movie and am excited by it, mostly from the aesthetics. I’m a fan of period movies sometimes called “costume dramas.” Nutcracker and the Four Realms has some elements of a costume drama to it and is just a colorful, visually-stimulating fantasy.
I love stories from the Victorian period as well as the Victorian aesthetic and am a fan of the Nutcracker story, ballet and music. I read the original Nutcracker and the Mouse King by E.T.A. Hoffmann a few Christmases ago. Sometimes, I think I’m a bit of a Russophile, and there are some Russian style influences in the movie as well. Nutcracker and the Four Realms also features a lot of Victorian-period mechanical inventions and clockwork, another fascination of mine. For this reason, the movie had a bit of a steampunk feel which might appeal to fans of that genre.
I guess my oldest brother recognized it as a “Susan movie,” and he suggested we see it together. I was surprised as it does not seem like a movie with stereotypical macho appeal. After all, it has a young female lead and is partly inspired by a ballet. The new Disney movie might have more appeal to a male audience than the ballet would. It has a bit more adventure and more intense scenes than the ballet and can even be mildly creepy in places. There are some scenes that might disturb someone with a fear of mice … or a fear of clowns. I don’t consider myself a musophobe — the main Mouse Prince has a cute little face — but there was one scene where I did pinch my brother’s sleeve … and he laughed.
The story of Nutcracker and the Four Realms is related to but quite different from the book and ballet, which may disturb some purists. I enjoyed it. I’d compare it to Oz fans being able to enjoy Wicked based on the book by Gregory Maguire. The Disney movie is not a ballet, but there are some ballet scenes in it as well as some Tchaikovsky music from the ballet in the soundtrack.
In this version, Clara Stahlbaum, played by Mackenzie Foy, is a bit of a science whiz and inventor. The movie opens with an owl swooping down over snowy London and a bird’s eye view of these scenes as you touch on some ice among ice skaters and hover over London streets. I saw this in 3D and really felt like I was in motion as my stomach lurched a few times. The significance of the owl relates to the ballet where the opening scene describes a grandmother clock topped with an owl. The owl is next seen with Clara’s toymaker godfather, played by Morgan Freeman.
Clara is first shown in the attic of her home with her brother Fritz where she has set up an elaborate Victorian version of a Rube Goldberg mouse trap, using various toys. This introduces you to her interest in invention and is also a foreshadowing of her encounter with the Mouse Prince.
Her Christmas gift is not a nutcracker. It is an elaborate gold egg reminiscent of Faberge eggs from that period. The gift is from her recently departed mother. It comes with a note from her mother, “Everything you need is inside,” but no key to open the egg. Clara shows her cleverness in that she knows what sort of lock the egg has although she is unable to pick it open. Later, at the Drosseldorfs’ party, Clara helps her godfather by reversing the rotation on his mechanical toy of spinning swans. Godfather Drosseldorf also gives her the key to her egg.
She and all the guests at the party receive Christmas gifts in a unique way. She finds her name tag on a string strung through the house and follows it through mysterious hallways all the way to the wintry outside where she discovers she’s in the magical place of the Four Realms.
The four realms are the Land of Sweets, Land of Snowflakes, Land of Flowers and Land of Amusements. The Land of Sweets is from the ballet. It is ruled by Sugar Plum, played by Keira Knightley. The other lands are not mentioned in the ballet, although the ballet has a Waltz of the Flowers and a Waltz of the Snowflakes. The movie’s story also has a Christmas Tree Forest.
Shortly after her arrival in the Realms, Clara loses her precious key to the Mouse Prince who snatches it and runs away. She meets the nutcracker, Phillip, played by Jayden Fowora-Knight soon afterwards and is astonished when he calls her Princess Clara and refers to her late mother as Queen Marie.
In the YouTube comments for the trailer, I noticed quite a discussion about how some people are disappointed that the godfather and the nutcracker were both played by black actors. Some were calling it “cultural appropriation” since the story is a European one. I can see finding it strange if a black actor was in the role of Andrew Jackson in a historical movie. That would seem historically inaccurate. This is a fantasy, and the nutcracker is a toy come to life. I don’t have a problem with it, and both actors were excellent in their roles.
The Land of Amusements is the home of the Mouse Prince, Mouse King and other mice. It is also the home of Mother Ginger played by Helen Mirren. The Land of Amusements has the feel of an abandoned, creepy carnival and is at war with the other three realms. The Nutcracker ballet features a Mother Ginger with a tent-like hoop skirt out of which climb little Pulcinellas, European style clowns. The movie’s Mother Ginger and her clowns are housed inside a huge mechanical Mother Ginger with a circus tent skirt. The clowns, with their strange, distorted faces, seem a little bit menacing.
I won’t give too many more spoilers, but there is battle and a very interesting plot twist that those previously familiar with the Nutcracker story would not anticipate.