Aside from pumpkin spice, nothing punctuates the onset of the holiday season more so than the return of a production of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker. This year, Walt Disney Pictures jumped aboard the sleigh with the film: The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, released nationwide on Friday, November 2nd.
With a stellar cast including Morgan Freeman, Keira Knightley and Helen Mirren, what the production lacks in ballet it makes up for in visual technicolor delight. Viewers are transported from lavish parties through Clara’s fantasyland in breathtaking, surround-sound wonder.
The story begins on a somber note as the Stahlberg family mourns the absence of their mother on Christmas Eve. The stoic father, played by Matthew MacFadyen, distributes gifts to his three children according to the last wishes of his wife. Middle-child Clara (Makenzie Foy) is gifted a bejeweled egg with a mysterious keyhole, and thus the adventure begins. Pursuit of the missing key is paramount, as the contents of the egg are promised to contain valuable treasures for Clara.
Clara, precocious and headstrong, finds the key only to have it stolen by a mischievous mouse before she can use it. Chasing after the mouse, Clara is lured into the magical wonderland of The Four Realms: The Land of Snowflakes, The Land of Flowers, The Land of Sweets – where the infamous Sugar Plum Fairy (Keira Knightly) resides, and the Land of Amusements, where Clara meets villain Mother Ginger (Helen Mirren). Each land and accompanying scene offer a colorful and varied landscape of adventure.
Despite the media limitations of a 2D audience experience, the film manages to pay homage to its more familiar context of stage ballet. There are several cameo appearances from famed ballerina Misty Copeland, and dance is woven throughout the story – contributing to the lyrical flow of the narrative.
In addition to the visual splendor of the film, the presence of strong female characters and racial diversity within the cast were appreciatively noted. Clara, while feminine and charming – was also a master engineer. Her skills were showcased throughout the film and ultimately it was her STEAM expertise that resulted in a happy ending and not the valiant Nutcracker who saved the day. The Nutcracker, incidentally, played by African American newcomer Jayden Fowora-Knight, has been credited as the first male lead actor of color in a Disney film. Also featured was Morgan Freeman as Clara’s Godfather, and Misty Copeland, the first African American female principal dancer in the American Ballet Company, as the iconic ballerina who graced the big screen in this performance. Well done, Hollywood.
Reviews of the film to date have been mixed. Rotten Tomatoes critics gave the film a score of 35% citing its failings as: “Lacking a transporting yuletide story or dazzling dance routines, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is a hollow holiday confection that’s lovely to look at — and easy to forget.”
Commonsense Media awarded the film three out of five stars concluding: “Disney’s take on Christmas Classic is colorful but intense.” And recommended the film as suitable for ages 8 and up.
However, my six-year-old co-reviewer and I sided with the 82% of Google users who liked the film. It may have been in part due to the fact that our screening was in the Village Theater, magical in and of itself, but I found the film engaging and entertaining. My co-reviewer has already asked to see the film again, citing her favorite parts as those including the “evil princess.” I feel the same way about Keira Knightley, but wouldn’t hesitate to see The Nutcracker and the Four Realms again (and again).
Movie times: click here
Genre: Adventure, Family, Fantasy
Actors: Mackenzie Foy, Keira Knightley, Morgan Freeman
Running Time: 99 minutes
Rating: Rated PG for some mild peril