The Nutcracker and The Four Realms

The Nutcracker and The Four Realms Director: Lasse Hallström, Joe Johnston | Rating: 8.8/11 |

When Disney announced at D23 Expo 2017 they were making a live action film based on the story The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, the room didn’t know what to expect. As someone who grew up watching The Nutcracker ballet every holiday season, how could my childhood memories be conveyed on the big screen with the same sense of beauty and wonderment. To this day dance is rarely filmed in a sufficient way, often cropping dancers into close-ups and mid-shots that do not show their full range of motion.

The presentation at D23 Expo included a performance by Charles Riley, aka Lil Buck, whose modern hip hop movements would define the inspired movement for the CG Mouse King in the film. This breathtaking performance left most of us feeling confident that The Nutcracker and The Four Realms would create a modernized ballet complete with gorgeous costumes (designed by Jenny Beavan) and a visually stunning backdrop, the kind of magical atmosphere Disney live action films like Cinderella, Into The Woods and Beauty and the Beast have previously created.

So, did The Nutcracker and The Four Realms achieve just that? Not exactly. The film centers around Clara, a character we never meet in E. T. A. Hoffmann‘s original story. Clara is the daughter of the Hoffman’s leading lady Marie which opens us up to an entirely new adventure. Marie has passed away and her dying wish was for her daughter to visit The Four Realms. It’s a heartwarming tale of a young girl overcoming her grief to believe in herself; finding inner confidence, beauty and strength along the way.

You’ll see familiar characters like Fritz, Drosselmeyer, the Nutcracker and the Mouse King and you’ll meet new characters such as the regents of the four realms: the Land of Flowers, the Land of Sweets, the Land of Snowflakes and the Land of Amusements. While the scenery is stunning and the costumes so beautiful you’ll want to add them to your own closet, what was missing was the dancing and the Tchaikovsky. The film clocks in about 10 minutes of beautiful ballet with the always phenomenal ballerina Misty Copeland taking the lead. And the Tchaikovsky music you’d expect to hear only appears in hints and teases here and there, but so appropriately placed that each note brought chills and tears of joy.

Then there’s the matter of the four realms. Where were they? We only get a quick montage of the Land of Flowers, Sweets and Snowflakes and while we do visit the Land of Amusements we only experience it in its war torn state (seemingly abandoned, destroyed, and frankly a bit creepy — especially the clowns) with no real reference of how it used to be. Which leaves us wondering how much of the four realms hit the cutting room floor leaving us with this bare bones version.

That aside, The Nutcracker and The Four Realms is a holiday sensation made for the whole family. It’s heartwarming, it’s beautifully conceptualized, and it will leave you ready to embrace Christmas. Mackenzie Foy (as Clara) will inspire your daughters. Morgan Freeman brings magical mystery to Drosselmeyer. Keira Knightley’s brilliant decision to use a higher pitched voice made her Sugar Plum Fairy diabolically sweet with such range of emotion. And Jayden Fowora-Knight brings such heart to Philip, the only Nutcracker, we expect this to be his breakout performance.

Audiences will also be tickled by the subtle nods to the live action orchestra shots in Fantasia, and if you’re a true Disnerd you may even smile at Philip’s horse being named “Jingles.” For those that don’t know, Jingles is also the name of the lead horse at King Arthur Carousel in Disneyland and was Walt Disney’s favorite horse. More recently, after a recent refurbishment, Jingles was dedicated to Julie Andrews.

The Nutcracker and The Four Realms opens in theaters Friday, November 2nd.