The most festive of the traditional Christmas family film offerings this year is Diney’s live action stunner, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms. With writing credits including the original Nutcracker storyteller, ETA Hoffman and a score of whimsically re-arranged motifs from Tchaikovsky’s much-loved ballet of the same name, this new film adaptation is a little more complex than the story most of us have grown up with.
In The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, Clara (McKenzie Foy) crosses over into a magical world comprised of multiple ‘lands’ or ‘realms’: the Land of Sweets, the Land of Snowflakes, the Land of Flowers and the mysterious Fourth Realm, once known as the Land of Amusements. The representatives of the realms are locked in a power struggle, and only Clara, the heir to the kingdom per se, can unlock the solution. Quite literally.
Families will be families with central character Clara, the eccentric Drosselmeyer (Morgan Freeman), the Sugar Plum Fairy (Kiera Knightley), Mouse King and titular Nutcracker soldiers. Their roles are similar to the classic ballet tale; and are joined by new characters from the realms – Shiver (Richard E. Grant), Hawthorne (Eugenio Derbez) and Mother Ginger (Helen Mirren) – as well as a whole host of weird and wonderful toys who have been brought to life by a curious invention created by Clara’s mother.
What has been obvious about the film since the first trailers, are it’s sumptuous visuals. Digital effects blur seamlessly with plush sets, meticulously detailed costumes, colourful makeup and wigs, and an on-trend Steampunk vibe that introduces a few science themes to the story. Keys and locks are central to the storyline, and echoed in the production design.
The score includes new music by James Newton Howard as well as clever arrangements of the ballet music that are recognisable, but ever so slightly different. Like an old movie-musical, a ballet sequence in the first half of the film explains (somewhat…) the history of the magical lands, and dance fans will be thrilled to see Misty Copeland from the American Ballet Theatre deliver a magical performance on a set that looks straight out of a pop-up book.
Clara’s character has been written with more depth than the ballet and offers an easily identifiable modern heroine for girls to love; a young lady with a bright mind, a sense of right and wrong, and the mixed up emotions of a teenager. The other characters are rather more predictable or less well drawn, and really just there to lead Clara along her journey. They’re fun to watch though and wouldn’t we all love a fairy-floss wig to snack from, like the Sugar Plum Fairy has.
In a field of tough holiday-movie competition (The Grinch, Ralph Breaks the Internet, Mary Poppins Returns, Fantastic Beasts 2, Aquaman, Bumblebee… lordy, the list goes on) The Nutcracker stands out as a gorgeously designed flight of fancy. The storyline will be challenging for anyone under the age of 8 to follow; so its a good option for the tweens and teens; as well as lovers of the fairytale it’s modelled after.