THE NUTCRACKER AND THE FOUR REALMS – Review
Tchaikovsky’s classic The Nutcracker Ballet is a perennial holiday favorite, particularly for little girls for whom visions of sugarplum fairy ballerinas dance in their heads. With Tchaikovsky’s beautiful music, Hoffman’s magical Christmas fantasy story, The Nutcracker seems a natural for Disney.
Best of all, THE NUTCRACKER AND THE FOUR REALMS features dancing by prima ballerina star Misty Copeland, the first African American principle dancer with the American Ballet Theater, With Copeland in the cast, Nutcracker fans can’t be blamed for expecting something like a lush big screen version of the holiday-favorite ballet. But THE NUTCRACKER AND THE FOUR REALMS is a far different story, with much less of Misty Copeland’s thrilling dancing and much less of Tchaikovsky’s famous music than one would expect or hope.
The result is pretty but disappointing. The film had a lot of promise, with Copeland dancing and a cast that includes Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren and Keira Knightley.
Indeed, the best parts of THE NUTCRACKER AND THE FOUR REALMS are the sequences that feature Copeland’s dancing, which are simply thrilling and shot in a heart-pounding energetic style. Sadly, we only see Copeland dance in one part of the story and then over the end credits. Likewise, while The Nutcracker Ballet has a number of famous, beloved Tchaikovsky pieces, we only hear snippets of a few of them, and mostly one theme repeated.
Of course, it is not too surprising that Disney would make some changes to a story where the Mouse King is the villain, in order to create a new adversary. The famous ballet abbreviates the ETA Hoffman story and Disney’s wish to keep a PG rating which might had made using more of Hoffman difficult. Still, surely the Disney writers could have come up with a more interesting story that also preserved more of the delights of the beloved ballet.
Like the ballet, THE NUTCRACKER AND THE FOUR REALMS is about the adventures of a girl named Clara (Mackenzie Foy), which begin with a Christmas party and a gift from her Uncle Drosselmeyer (Morgan Freeman). There is a nutcracker shaped like a soldier but that is a gift for Clara’s little brother while Clara receives a key that leads her into the magical Four Realms. There she meets The Nutcracker (played by Jayden Fowora-Knight) as well as Sugar Plum (Keira Knightley), Mother Ginger (Helen Mirren), and others of this magical land called the Four Realms.
Changing the fantasy from a dream to an Alice In Wonderland-like magical realm seemed like a reasonable change but then story from there feels uninspired and routine. Drawing on elements from Lewis Carroll, the Wizard of Oz and other classics, the story never really picks up much steam. This is despite the dazzling visual world and the best efforts of the cast, particularly Helen Mirren as the spooky-looking Mother Ginger. Keira Knightley does more scenery-chewing than one usually sees and other character seem flat. Matthew MacFadyen struggles to breathe some life into the role of Clara’s father, who is still mourning Clara’s mother Marie (Anna Madeley) but the part seems under written.
The story is changed substantially in the quest to create a new villain, and in this version the mice are more comic relief, as befits the House that Mickey built. That would be fine except the story Disney comes up with is rather dull, lacking much energy or excitement. The film looks fabulous of course but will it has the appearance of an epic adventure tale, it certainly does not have an epic film. A few scenes try for excitement but much of the film is rather static, like a pretty picture of an adventure tale.
THE NUTCRACKER AND THE FOUR REALMS is mostly worth seeing for Copeland’s dancing but it is too small a part of this rather dull if pretty tale. Better yet, take the kids to a live performance of The Nutcracker Ballet.
RATING: 2 1/2 out of 5 stars