When Hubby and I were still newlyweds (like less than five years of marriage and no kids), we rotated the responsibility of planning a special Christmas date for each other. I know, those were the days, right? One year, we went to dinner and visited the local zoo lit up with festive decor. That was spectacular! The next year, which happened to be the year I planned, we went to a fancy dinner and then off to the ballet. Neither of us had been to a ballet before, but we both had a tremendous appreciation for theater and the arts. Since it was Christmas, the obvious choice was to see The Nutcracker, which was playing at the local theater in town. It was a magical evening ~ one filled with all the holiday feels.
Disclaimer #1: I received an invite to a complimentary media screening. All opinions in this post are 100% mine and mine alone.
Disclaimer #2: This post contains affiliate links. Please see my Disclosure policy for more information.
The Nutcracker and The Four Realms
Fast forward to 2018 and here we have Walt Disney Pictures bringing us a re-imagined version of the story we have come to know and cherish for decades. I kid you not ~ I had been eagerly anticipating the screening of Disney’s The Nutcracker and The Four Realms, as I am infatuated with Christmas and love a great classic. I have also grown to adore how Disney brings these treasured stories to life so that we can enjoy them with a fresh, new perspective.
The Nutcracker and The Four Realms is no exception. It does present a fresh look at the story of a young girl, a nutcracker soldier, a godfather and mouse. A lot of creative license is employed, but I think we have all come to expect that with this story. I was chatting with a friend of mine from high school, whose daughters have danced in several productions of this story. She was quick to point out to me that they have seen various fractures of the tale from the original ~ one even including a bear!
Needless to say, however, the writers of this film did an exquisite job at drawing from and making sweet, poignant and pertinent references to both the original story and the ballet (which in and of itself is a reshaping of the original story from E.T.A. Hoffman, The Nutcracker and the Mouse King).
Let’s Chat About The Movie Itself
All Clara (Mackenzie Foy) wants is a key – a one-of-a-kind key that will unlock a box that holds a priceless gift. A golden thread, presented to her at godfather Drosselmeyer’s (Morgan Freeman) annual holiday party, leads her to the coveted key—which promptly disappears into a strange and mysterious parallel world. It’s there that Clara encounters a soldier named Phillip (Jayden Fowora-Knight), a gang of mice and the regents who preside over three Realms: Land of Snowflakes, Land of Flowers and Land of Sweets. Clara and Phillip must brave the ominous Fourth Realm, home to the tyrant Mother Ginger (Helen Mirren), to retrieve Clara’s key and hopefully return harmony to the unstable world. Starring Keira Knightley as the Sugar Plum Fairy, Disney’s new holiday feature film “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms” is directed by Lasse Hallström and Joe Johnston, and inspired by E.T.A. Hoffmann’s classic tale.
The movie takes on the feel of watching Chronicles of Narnia with a slight nod to Alice in Wonderland, the latter portion of this description credited to my friend’s son, Xander (see her review on whether the movie is kid-friendly here). It certainly won’t satisfy the realist, who will be quick to find certain holes and inconsistencies, but it will appease the dreamer as it takes them on a magical adventure of self discovery.
The imagery and set design are stunning. I found it visually stimulating and the movie has all the elements needed to turn itself into a seasonal favorite. It’s colorful, masterful and magical ~ everything you would expect a Disney picture to be. There’s no surprise there.
The casting was well done. I am always amazed by Morgan Freeman and he, of course, commanded with loving authority the small, but intimate role of Drosselmeyer, Clara’s godfather. Mackenzie Foy, in her first major studio role, is both strong and adorable as 14 year old Clara. She brought true heart and authenticity to the character.
Jayden Fowora-Knight was charming as the Nutcracker soldier; however, I have to admit that I would have liked to have seen a little more out of him ~ in more ways than one. I simply feel carrying the title role should have had more impact, charisma and life ~ but that’s just my opinion. His part felt more like an extra, or a sidekick, and lacked creativity.
When it comes to the iconic Helen Mirren, of course, she harnessed the role of Mother Ginger with fervor, strength and relentlessness. Both Eugenio Derbez (Hawthorne) and Richard E. Grant (Shiver) creatively mastered their roles, as well, as the regents of their own realms. They, along with the two butlers, offered a little comic relief that kept my son and I chuckling in our seats.
The surprise for me, however, was with Keira Knightly. Her Sugar Plum Fairy personality throughout the film stole the audience’s attention and she did a great job in a role that was written somewhat out of character and with a unique twist.
Four Takeaways from Inside the Nutcracker and the Four Realms
Of course, for me, a movie never satisfies unless it has a message. I love to walk away knowing there was something for me to learn, think upon or be challenged by. The Nutcracker and the Four Realms had numerous poignant statements and drew from the original and ballet in order to make their points both clear and valid.
Not every lock is as easy to pick as others
The modern tale centers around recovering from a loss. We all face that kind of loss at one point or another and we all heal in different ways. If we were each a lock that required a key to open, we would find each keyhole different and some even comprised of a more unique locking mechanism. Not every lock will be as easy to pick as others. What a great way to say that we all need to respect the various ways we grieve, mourn, grow and heal in a fashion that is compatible with our own personalities.
Some can move forward without looking back. Others need time to cry, scream and feel deep sadness. Still others need to find ways to help those around them so that they can heal through watching others heal. It’s always a process and that process looks differently for each and every individual.
Being unique is important
I look at my boys and, while I see similarities, I see tremendous contrasts, as well. They all respond to things in a different way and they are all fascinated by different topics. One is dream deep into theater. Another is a die hard for computer programming. The third is into numbers like the alphabet doesn’t even exist.
Clara’s individuality is the stand out feature in this movie. She is not like her siblings and her strong scientific mind doesn’t fit in with the typical stereotype of a Victorian-age fourteen year old girl. She is more akin to her mother, Marie (a nod to the original story by E.T.A. Hoffman), whom Clara misses tremendously. Her mother knew her daughter was unique and that those strengths would come in handy some day. It was no surprise that, through her adventures in the parallel universe, Clara discovers those unique qualities about herself and is able to celebrate them rather than tuck them away.
Everything you need is inside – confidence, determination
When grief strikes, it is easy to forget the strength you own within. You get lost within yourself and in the circumstances and it becomes difficult to move forward. It’s easy to retreat and not want to participate with others, even family. Clara was feeling every ounce of that burden and her mother foreknew that it would take an adventure to draw out what Clara needed from inside in order to heal.
By creating an adventure her daughter would never forget, Marie taught Clara how to tap into the confidence and determination she had within her own soul to overcome the obstacles she faces in life ~ including the loss of her kindred spirit, her mother. She required a different kind of “key” to unlock that unique potential and needed the encouragement from a family outside her of “realm” to show her that.
The importance of family
Lastly, the movie focuses tremendously on the bond of family. While four hearts were dramatically affected by the loss of one, some of them had to be reminded that the four of them were still there and beating. A man lost his wife and three children lost their mother, but they needed each other in order to help fill the hole that had been created. A warm embrace, an understanding smile ~ all are integral ingredients of the healing process.
By spending time with her “extended family” in the four realms, Clara came to realize everything noted above. She learned that each key / each locking mechanism is different, each person is unique and it takes confidence to move forward in overcoming loss ~ together.
Clara knew she would always miss her mother, but she didn’t want to lose another moment with her siblings and father, whom she loved dearly. She had simply lost sight of the place family has in her heart and she needed to be reminded.
Check out these printable coloring pages and activity sheets!
Would I recommend the movie?
Recreating a time-honored story is difficult, but leave it to Disney to create another visually stunning and emotionally appealing masterpiece. I don’t know that it will earn itself any honors and some critics are already calling it disappointing. However, there is no doubt in my mind that this film will become another seasonal treasure that will find its way onto many annual must-watch lists. So, yes, I would recommend it.
So that you know…
There are a few intense parts with a few dark moments in the Fourth Realm and, yes, mice. There are mice. If you are creeped out by mice, you may have a slightly skirmish moment or two, but it won’t last and you’ll get over it fairly quickly.
For younger children and those with certain sensitivities, there are a few scenes that may be a little frightening or bothersome. They are going through a family loss, so death is a part of the discussion. The Fourth Realm is a little creepy and desolate and the harlequin type characters are rather quirky and a little disturbing at times. Otherwise, the movie is charming and colorful. It draws attention to self-discovery and the finding of one’s place in both family and life.
Like I said, it may not be an award winner, but I plan on watching this every year when Christmas rolls around.
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THE NUTCRACKER AND THE FOUR REALMS opens in theatres everywhere on November 2nd!
Have you heard Andrea Bocelli and Matteo Bocelli’s Fall on Me duet for the movie? Click here to watch the music video.
Now on Digital and Blu-ray!!!
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