‘Tis the season for Disney to shine with its festive films and what better than to repackage a beloved classic that is an integral part of the Christmas tradition.
The Nutcracker and the Four Realms brings the magic home once again, after countless film and stage adaptations, with Disney breathing fresh life into a treasured tale with a sequel of sorts.
While this works on most counts, there are moments where the film lets down the child in us by rearranging the story just enough to limit its most enchanted chapter — the ballet. Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker ballet has been mesmerising since the first production was staged in 1954. And while the Four Realms does weave it into the narrative beautifully (one of the best scenes of the film), there is simply far too little of it.
Perhaps the only other hitch in this plot is the role played by the Nutcracker himself. For someone who plays the titular character in the original story and this new adaptation, the toy soldier finds his importance rather truncated compared to what author E T A Hoffmann had envisioned for him when he penned The Nutcracker and the Mouse King in 1816.
The most recent version handpicks elements from Hoffmann’s story and Tchaikovsky’s reworking with the main protagonist Marie (named Clara in several stage adaptations) having passed on the mantle of the Four Realms to her daughter, also named Clara (Mackenzie Roy).
It’s Christmas Eve once again and Clara’s godfather Drosselmeyer (Morgan Freeman) has a special present for his ward, which leads her into the magical world of the Four Realms. This parallel world, much like Narnia, is hidden behind a door that leads the young saviour to a land that’s facing dark times with the three realms (the Land of Snowflakes, Flowers and Sweets) at war with the Land of Amusement, presided over by Mother Ginger (Helen Mirren) and her army of mice.
Along the way, Clara joins forces with a Nutcracker called Phillip (Jayden Fowora-Knight), who will help the newly christened princess retrieve a magical key that could bring an end to this war. But all is not what it seems, with Sugar Plum (Keira Knightley), the reigning head of the Land of Sweets, pursuing her own agenda with the turn of the key.
In her first lead role, Roy seems to have come a long way since she held the fate of the forces in her nubile hands as Renesmee, daughter of Edward and Bella Cullen in the Twilight series. Roy breathes a certain kind of innocence into her Clara, bringing a layer of emotional complexity to her character that will certainly take her a long way in Hollywood.
While Mirren does what she’s best at, bring a dollop of sass to her role of Mother Ginger, the film is Knightley’s all the way. Despite glaring comparisons to Effie Trinket’s on-the-face persona from The Hunger Games franchise, Knightley’s Sugar Plum effortlessly brings a certain saccharine sweetness to a wickedly delicious act.
Even if Knightley was out of her comfort zone after years of playing a woman in angst, she makes Sugar Plum her own by adding dimensions to her character that makes one almost sympathise with her stance on how the Four Realms needs to be ruled.
Ultimately though, this is a Disney film and good will conquer the proverbial forces of evil. You may argue that The Nutcracker and the Four Realms hardly adopts a realistic approach to teach children life’s pivotal lessons, but sometimes this is just what one needs in a time when the world is all but losing its faith in humanity.
Don’t miss it!
The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is out in the UAE on November 2.