Director: Lasse Hallström, Joe Johnston
Cast: Mackenzie Foy, Morgan Freeman, Jayden Fowora-Knight, Helen Mirren, Keira Knightley, Misty Copeland
Release Date: PG
The Nutcracker and the Four Realms begins in the aftermath of a mother’s death. Christmas is quickly approaching and the Stahlbaum family is in mourning, with three young children longing for their late mother. On the night of an elegant party, Clara (Mackenzie Foy) — one of the three children — sneaks away from the party only to discover a land far away from her present circumstances, a land where her mother’s legacy lives on.
Fans of The Nutcracker will likely already know the original story of this this well-known tale. As the credits note, the feature was inspired by E.T.A. Hoffmann’s short story The Nutcracker and the Mouse King and the Nutcracker ballet, which was written by Marius Petipa.
What makes this feature stand out though is its candy-colored visual style, which should impress both young and older fans of the story.
When Clara transports into the world of the four realms, the visual language of the movie transforms. Production designer Guy Hendrix Dyas really showcases his skills in this distinct world, which features a Land of Sweets, a Land of Flowers and a Land of Snowflakes.
After being transported, Clara befriends Phillip (Jayden Fowora-Knight), a loyal soldier brought to life by Clara’s touch. It’s Phillip who tells Clara about her mother Marie. Marie once served as the Queen of the four realms, earning the respect of many of her subjects. Since she left, the fourth realm has experienced turmoil with a gigantic doll named Mother Ginger towering over the bleak land.
As Clara continues her journey in the unique world, she meets a group of fairies. Keira Knightley co-stars as the Sugar Plum Fairy, who tells Clara that she has a plan to protect the fourth realm from Mother Ginger and create peace in the four realms once again.
The story is simplistic enough but its message about personal growth and love is a strong one. The set-up of Clara dealing with her mother’s death is handled with great sensitivity and oftentimes shies away from overt sentimentality. Clara’s frustrations with her father play a key role here, as the two deal with their loss in different ways (he wants to keep up appearances while she wants to keep her mother’s memory at the forefront).
The most memorable aspect of the film though is the design and look of the feature. This Disney production really has a look of its own and the feature celebrates the uniqueness of this fantasy world while blending in the real actors, who fit nicely into these distinct settings. From showcasing a mouse king (composed of dozens of creatures in a tornado-like structure) to the designs of some of the fairy dresses, there are truly fantastic designs on display here.
Mackenzie Foy does a solid job in the leading role but Jayden Fowora-Knight oftentimes stumbles in creating a real depth to his character. There are times that the script doesn’t give these two major characters enough personality to really stand out. However, Knightley does fantastic work as the Sugar Plum Fairy. Her character pops off the screen as the Oscar-nominated actress steals scenes with her unique voice and an excitement that clearly shows that she’s having fun in this standout role.
Directed by Lasse Hallström and Joe Johnston, the feature is a lovely escapist movie that captures its beautiful world incredibly well. For fans of the ballet, there are a few scenes of dance that attempt to retell the origin story of the four realms (there are also ballet sequences at the end of the feature). For new fans of the story though, this feature stands on its own in capturing this well-known story (admittedly, there are some twists along the way) and this splendid visual world.
Review by: John Hanlon