The Nutcracker and the Four Realms (2018)
Director: Lasse Hallström, Joe Johnston
Cast: Mackenzie Foy, Keira Knightley, Jayden Fowora-Knight, Matthew Macfadyen, Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman, Misty Copeland
Plot: After receiving a mysterious egg-shaped box as a gift from her deceased mother, young Clara Stahlbaum finds herself in the magical world of the Four Realms and has to embark in an adventure in order to preserve the very existence of the Realms.
Freely adapted from E.T.A. Hoffmann’s short-story “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” and the libretto of Tchaikovsky’s ballet “The Nutcracker”, written by Marius Petipa, Disney’s The Nutcracker and the Four Realms differs from previous film (and TV) adaptations because of the way the story merges elements from both sources. This can confuse viewers who are familiar with the original story and was also one of the reasons I found this adaptation to not be to my taste.
The main issue with the plot is the way the original story has been adapted. As outlined above, elements from both Hoffmann’s story and the libretto can be found in this movie. For instance, the Mouse King (part of the original story) is also a character in the film, only with a significant variation in characterisation, while the Land of Sweets, one of the main settings in the story, is from Tschaikovsky’s ballet. Moreover, the heroine’s first name in the movie is Clara Stahlbaum, while in Hoffmann’s story and in the ballet she’s named Marie – in the movie, Marie becomes Clara’s mother. Are we to assume this is a pseudo-sequel of sorts? It’s never quite made clear.
In the movie, Clara meets the Nutcracker Captain Philip (Jayden Fowora-Knight), for the first time as she enters the Four Realms, while in the original story and in the ballet, she first receives the Nutcracker as a gift – he was turned into a wooden toy by the Mouse Queen and will only regain his human form later on in the story. The relationship between the Nutcracker and Clara is almost non-existent in this movie, something that is in stark contrast to the traditional story. This is probably the case because the movie seems to centre around the heroine’s self-development and thus romance plays only a minor role in the story. This choice is an interesting new spin on the traditional tale, but the forward-thinking narrative it produces fails to capture attention in quite the same way.
The film projects the audience into the magical and colourful world of the Four Realms, and the visual effects are good enough to achieve that end. On that note, Clara’s palace seems to resemble Saint Basil’s cathedral in Moscow – probably a reference to Russian composer Tschaikovsky, whose music features in the film – and there is a sequence in which Clara enters the Four Realms for the first time in a manner reminiscent of The Chronicles of Narnia: the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which I found that to be quite an effective way of delivering the shift.
As for the performances, Helen Mirren delivers quite a convincing performance as quirky Madame Ginger: Ruler of the Fourth Realm (the Land of Amusements), while Keira Knightley is somewhat charismatic in her portrayal of a Sugar Plum Fairy with a twist. Mackenzie Foy’s performance as Clara did not really stand out despite being central to the movie, perhaps owing to the lack of investment the narrative draws, while Jayden Fowora-Knight’s Nutcracker had the potential for a more central role, as did Morgan Freeman’s Drosselmeyer. Misty Copeland’s performance as the ballerina, and the soundtrack featuring Tchaikovsky’s music, were particularly positive, with Clara’s public introduction in the Land of Sweets by the Sugar Plum Fairy to the notes of Tchaikovsky’s march “The Nutcracker” being a particularly nice touch.
All in all however, this film fell below expectations – the feeling you get is that it tries to equal the results achieved by other fantasy blockbusters like The Chronicles of Narnia without quite managing to be at the same level. Having said that, there were a few redeeming features that make for an enjoyable but not all that memorable watch.