Review: The Nutcracker and the Four Realms

Christmas came early this year when Walt Disney Studios released their festive new film, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, on November 2nd. Though primarily inspired by Petipa and Tchaikovsky’s ballet The Nutcracker, writer Ashleigh Powell also draws on elements from E.T.A. Hoffman’s The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, as well as giving the story a few new and unique twists of her own. It tells the story of Clara (Mackenzie Foy), an intelligent young girl dealing with the recent loss of her mother, and her quest to save a mysterious and magical world that has been divided by war. On her journey, Clara encounters all manner of magical beings, from mice to tin soldiers, all whilst learning to trust and believe in herself.

What makes the film especially magical is the costumes, particularly when paired with the gorgeous hair and makeup. Designed by Oscar winner Jenny Beavan, they fit perfectly with the fantasy setting of the four realms, and are used to differentiate between the lands of Snowflakes, Flowers, and Sweets. Each of the realms has its own visual theme, and though the locations themselves don’t get much screen time, the essence of them is clearly portrayed through the appearance of the three regents: Shiver (Richard E. Grant), covered top-to-toe in icicles, Hawthorne (Eugenio Derbez), decked in green with floral details, and Sugar Plum (Keira Knightley), whose dress appears to be made of sweet wrappers. Despite not being the hero of the film, the Sugar Plum Fairy is one of the stand-out characters, and gets top billing in the credits, above even Clara herself. However, this is definitely not Knightley’s best role; though engaging, her performance is occasionally quite stilted, particularly when compared to the other stars of the film such as Dame Helen Mirren.

One of the more unusual elements of the film is the inclusion of dance sequences, which harken back to the origins of the Nutcracker story. Before Clara’s adventure truly begins, she watches a ballet detailing her mother’s discovery of the four realms, which is performed by professional ballet dancer Misty Copeland. This sequence is lengthy, with only very brief dialogic interruptions, and so may seem a little tedious for some viewers, despite its initial visual appeal. Accompanying the film’s dance sequences, as well as many other scenes, is a reimagining of Tchaikovsky’s original Nutcracker composition, put together by multi-award-winning film score composer, James Newton Howard. The successful insertion of this traditional music adds an element of familiarity to the otherwise brand-new film, and is a constant reminder to the audience of the story’s inspiration.

Overall, with its beautiful visuals, traditional music score, and intriguing plot, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is a highly enjoyable film, especially for younger audiences. Though perhaps not the greatest work of many of its stars, it is still packed with humour, suspense, and heart – a perfect film for the family to watch together this festive season!