WHAT TO SEE: Christmas fantasy in pointe shoes
The Nutcracker and the Four Realms
Mackenzie Foy, Keira Knightley, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren
Runtime: 100 min
Those who glaze over at the very mention of ballet may find Disney’s The Nutcracker and the Four Realms an upgrade over their expectations. Those who look forward to the exquisite choreography and majestic music that characterizes the traditional Christmastime performance of The Nutcracker might find this 2018 film not an exact parallel.
It’s a lavish presentation that borrows from both the 1892 ballet and the 1816 short story by E.T.A. Hoffman that inspired it, The Nutcracker and the Mouse King. Hoffman’s original was decidedly dark in its telling, not much at all like the whimsical version we know today. Disney’s unique take bears influences of both. This isn’t the full Tchaikovsky score and two-act Nutcracker with added dialogue, however, but rather a basic storybook drama with a sampling of Tchaikovsky and ballet thrown in — visually appealing but only mildly entertaining at best.
Clara Stahlbaum (Mackenzie Foy), a 14-year-old London girl, receives a Christmas gift from her late mother that leads her to search for the golden key that will unlock it. Dispatched by her knowing godfather Drosselmeyer (Morgan Freeman) into a magical world consisting of four “realms,” Clara joins forces with the titular Nutcracker, Captain Philip Hoffman (Jayden Fowora-Knight), to recapture the key after it was spirited away by a thieving mouse. Spurred on by the Sugar Plum Fairy (Keira Knightley), Clara and the Nutcracker confront the regent of the Fourth Realm, Mother Ginger (Helen Mirren), who reputedly is at war with the other three realms.
This inter-realm conflict is not quite as it initially seems, and Clara must act heroically to restore harmony to this strange kingdom — where, incidentally, Clara’s mother once ruled as queen. All the while, Clara draws inspiration from her mother, and in the end her takeaway is the usual neatly packaged set of valuable lessons learned.
The presentation demands little of post-adolescent viewers — just patience at times, perhaps. If one drifts uncritically into the fanciful world of Clara and the Nutcracker, however, one might find the journey worthwhile enough.
GERALD KORSON is a Legatus magazine staff writer.