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Review: ‘The Nutcracker and the Four Realms’ is colorful but falls short

By Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media (TNS)

Parents need to know that “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms,” is Disney’s live-action adaptation of the classic Christmas ballet about young Clara (Mackenzie Foy), who receives a special gift from her godfather (Morgan Freeman). Here, departing from the usual version of the story, Clara gains access to a magical, Narnia-like world called the Four Realms, where she meets a brave Nutcracker soldier (Jayden Fowora-Knight), the Sugar Plum Fairy (Keira Knightley), Mother Ginger (Helen Mirren), and more. Expect some creepy scenes/characters that could be frightening to young kids, especially the Mouse King (he’s a large, looming creature made out of thousands of small, teeming mice), Mother Ginger’s unsettling security clowns, and a few battle scenes between opposing forces (swords are used). While there’s no significant injury or death on screen, main characters do face peril and betrayal, and both adults and children mourn the loss of Clara’s beloved mother, Marie (her passing isn’t shown, but her family is sad without her). Clara’s interest in science/invention is celebrated, as are courage, perseverance, trusting yourself, and learning from your mistakes.


“The Nutcracker and the Four Realms,” is Disney’s live-action fantasy adventure based on the classic Tchaikovsky ballet. In this adaptation, Clara (Mackenzie Foy) is the middle of three Stahlberg children, who are marking their first Christmas since the death of their mother, Marie (Anna Madeley). Before their widower father (Matthew Macfadyen) takes them to a party at their godfather Drosselmeyer’s (Morgan Freeman) home, he gives each child a gift from their late mother. Clara receives an ornate filigree egg that requires a key to open, along with a note that says “everything you need is inside.” At the party, Clara’s Christmas gift from her godfather leads her into Narnia-like world called the Four Realms, where she hunts for the key to the egg and meets three of the land’s three regents, including Sugar Plum (Keira Knightley). They claim that the fourth regent, Mother Ginger (Helen Mirren), is trying to take over all of the realms. Sugar Plum implores Clara to help bring peace to their world, so the girl and her trusted new friend, nutcracker soldier Phillip (Jayden Fowora-Knight), set out to save the day.


This visually compelling adaptation should please younger holiday-movie fans, but even Misty Copeland’s ballet performances may not be enough to enthrall those without kids. Which isn’t to say that “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms” expanded take on the classic Christmas ballet doesn’t have an interesting premise. Here, Clara is no longer a passive observer but an active participant in defending and restoring the Four Realms. And there are certainly some moments of delight and wonder (Copeland dancing to Tchaikovsky’s score, Clara’s extravagant welcome party, the opulent sets and costumes). But there are also creepy parts — like Mother Ginger’s unsettling clowns, the teeming mice that form the giant Mouse King, and Sugar Plum’s leering comments about the tin soldiers — that feel like a departure from the movie’s kid-friendly tone.

Foy is an undeniably appealing and expressive actor, and the film’s young target audience will relate to her awestruck need to do what’s right and what would make her mother proud. And the movie’s Narnia-meets-Oz production design is colorful and evocative; you can imagine scores of elementary-aged moviegoers feeling invested in Clara’s adventure. But the storytelling falls short of being grand enough to replace the ballet as the definitive version of the Nutcracker. If anything, Copeland’s brief appearances will likely make adult audiences long for a performance of the original ballet. (Plus, having such big stars in supporting roles makes the plot’s “twists” somewhat predictable.) At least Foy’s plucky Clara leads a charge and learns her worth as she defends this fantasy world. It’s just that this “Nutcracker” isn’t quite enchanting enough to become a classic.

MPAA rating: PG

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