The Nutcracker is one of the most iconic stories of Christmas. A story of a young girl who is taken to a world of army mice led by the Mouse King. Her loyal Nutcracker would then come alive to defend and save her.
My first introduction to this icon was watching the VHS copy of the Emile Ardolino released by Warner Brothers featuring a very young Macaulay
Culkin. This version featured the story in it’s stage: version beauty, ballet and orchestra music. There was no dialogue and it was narrated.
The Nutcracker and the Four Realms also incorporates the ballet theater aspects but it is not even close in similarity.
In true Disney fashion, Clara’s family is dealing with the loss of the matriarch. With it being the first Christmas, the family is barely holding on. Her older sister is slipping into the role of a grown woman looking after her family while her young brother is carrying on. Clara’s discontent causes a rift between her and her father right before the big Christmas party.
There is indeed a grand soiree, which is in line with the original story, as it all begins with a Christmas party. Except the party is only presented on screen shortly; then there is a glimpse of the towering tree (how did they ever drag that tree in there?!? ) before the story takes a sharp detour into it’s own world.
The first step in the new adventure is Clara sneaking off to the work space of Drosselmeyer (played by Morgan Freeman) where she helps fix a broken music box. Very quickly it is established that Clara would rather tinker than mingle. Encouraged by Drosselmeyer to join the fun upstairs, she arrives just in time for presents which are not just handed out. Oh no. All of the children run to the center tree in the snowy yard with a bunch of yarn “pathways” that are attached to it leading to various parts of the mansion. Each child finds their name and follows the yarn to find their present.
The movie has barely begun and it’s already a struggle to follow. Somehow, someway, Drosselmeyer or his servants, were able to run around during the party and attach the yarn at various points around the mansion with a gift at the end. There is a hefty number of guests milling around the hallways and probably hiding in rooms…doing stuff. I can only imagine that people were just herded into a central areas, creating a heated environment. No wonder the guests were willing to stream out to the garden.
This kind of boggling story points continues on right into the end. Zipping right along, Clara follows her string to come out in Christmas Land where there is a key at the end of the string. The key is a needless plot device that has Clara running around to seize it. The “key” leads to her finding out that her mother was a Queen; that automatically makes Clara a princess of the realms. Only she stepped right into a war where three of the realms are fighting against one realm. Land of Snowflakes, Land of Flowers, and Land of Sweets are at war with the Fourth Realm. Clara now must save the realms on behalf of her Mother’s legacy.
Following this movie was like trying to detangle a yarn ball.
By the end of the movie, it is a typical Disney happy ending but it is completely unsatisfactory.
What was most unfortunate about this movie was that so much of it was unnecessary and could have been trimmed out completely. Quite honestly the whole story plot of Clara saving the realms could have just been removed entirely. It did not do anything to elevate Clara’s character or create any pivotal moments.
The absolute strongest point of this movie that made it worth watching are the visuals. Every frame and every fabric is a delicious visual feast. Instead of a Christmas aesthetic, there was more of a steampunk pastel pattern which suited my eyeballs happily even though my brain was tripping over itself trying to figure out the plot. I gleefully soaked in very stunning costume creations. There were gorgeous and thoughtful details in everything. Every piece was unique and just fantastic.
What I also appreciated were the practical set environments. Only few parts of the movie, such as the mice and opening scene (which is very dizzying and can create a headache), were CGI. Everything else was a practical piece including the exploding carousel! Very few movies now will film around a practical set or use practical props. This is a shame as seeing the details and props working in a real environment creates an atmosphere that cannot be recreated. Also, the engineering and design involved is fascinating. I highly recommend watching the special bonus features where they show the forest set.
The vehicle of telling the story of the Nutcracker is through the ballet. The Nutcracker and the Four Realms does feature a ballet centerpiece starring Misty Copeland. She has made history as being the first African American female principal dance for the American Ballet Dancer. Her story is the classic of struggling beginnings to absolute star. In the movie, she plays the role of Clara’s mother when she first discovers the four realms. I honestly wished I could have enjoyed this segment more but something about it failed to draw my attention. Her dancing was superb but the segment was too short to truly admire her skills and the choreography was not particularly interesting. Granted, I am not someone who has watched enough ballet to truly understand the techniques and give it its appropriate appreciation. I completely understand and admire the physical tests that ballet dancers do to themselves to achieve such seemingly effortless grace. The segment was not enough to showcase her talent or even provide any weight to the story.
Oddly enough, despite being in the title, there was very little to do with the Nutcracker. He is loyal and stays by Clara’s side but his role is to just worry over her and willingly give up his life for her. There was hardly any point to him and he was a complete throw-away character. An absolute waste of an opportunity to see Clara and the Nutcracker fight alongside one another.
Overall, it truly is a remarkable film in its beauty but it is completely lackluster in story. There is only the barest shred of the Nutcracker story and it became this mutated attempt at “strong and independent women” power. It absolutely deserves to be viewed for it’s visual glory but do not give much weight at all to the story.
The Nutcracker and the Four Realms are out now on DVD and Blu-Ray.