THE NUTCRACKER AND THE FOUR REALMS
Director: Lasse Hallström and Joe Johnston
Screen Story: Ashleigh Powell, suggested by the short story The Nutcracker And The Mouse King by E.T.A. Hoffmann and The Nutcracker ballet by Marius Petipa.
Screenplay: Ashleigh Powell and Tom McCarthy
Richard E. Grant
Runtime: 99 mins.
Australian release date: 22 November 2018
Previewed at: Hoyts EQ, Moore Park, Sydney, on 11 November 2018.
Judging by the excitement of the audience at the preview screening, there was much anticipation for this festive treat from a young female fan base who must have been enthused by their mothers about the story, the music and the ballet of The Nutcracker. The much-loved ballet is a staple of dance companies every Christmas and is familiar to generations of ballet lovers. This latest version of the story from The Walt Disney Studio, however, The Nutcracker And The Four Realms, is not a ballet but a dramatic feature film, although it does include a dance scene with Misty Copeland, the American Ballet Theatre’s principal ballerina. Directed by Lasse Hallström and Joe Johnston, and accompanied by a beautiful score that incorporates themes from Tchaikovsky’s famous music, the experience will mainly resonate with younger viewers, particularly girls.
It’s December 24th in Victorian London and a young daughter, Clara (Mackenzie Foy), is given a box containing a hand-made metal egg as a gift from her recently deceased mother and a message saying, ‘Everything you need is inside’, but the key to the egg is missing. Clara learns from her godfather, the skilled inventor Drosselmeyer (Morgan Freeman, replete with eye-patch), that he made the egg for her mother and she had always intended to bequeath it to her. At the Christmas Eve ball that night, tradition dictates that the children follow a golden string to find their presents and Clara’s leads her into a magic forest where she glimpses the missing key but a mouse grabs it and disappears. Giving chase, Clara gains the assistance of Captain Philip Hoffman (Jayden Forowa-Knight) and crosses a bridge into a parallel world where her adventure really begins. There she encounters the enchanted Four Realms and their Regents: the Land of Snowflakes, whose Regent is Shiver (Richard E. Grant), the Land of Sweets, overseen by the Sugar Plum Fairy (Keira Knightley), the Land of Flowers, governed by Hawthorne (Eugenio Derbez) and the Land of Amusements, run by Mother Ginger (Helen Mirren). Clara is soon drawn into a classic battle of good versus evil, because one of the Regents is determined to violently take over all four Realms, and she realises that it’s up to her to find the key, restore peace and discover the real meaning of her mother’s message.
The Nutcracker And The Four Realms is visually stunning and the fantastic sets are bound to captivate a young audience. It’s an exceedingly loose interpretation of Hoffmann’s original 1816 story but the kids won’t know that. Regrettably, James Newton Howard’s score doesn’t use enough of Tchaikovsky’s glorious music either, choosing instead to reference it only, as it strives to update and modernise the work. On the plus side, the characters are all decked out in highly decorative and creative costumes that will inspire many little girls to emulate the look at forthcoming fancy dress parties, á la the princess dresses from Frozen. I’m thinking the Sugar Plum Fairy, Knightley (who appeared to be thoroughly enjoying her role as the malevolent fairy), with her exaggerated hair and over-the-top outfits. Boys will go for the soldierly look of Forowa-Knight’s Capt. Philip, all gold braid and elaborate helmets. He gives a sensitive performance and works well alongside Foy, who’s well cast as the young girl who faces adversity with courage and curiosity. Let’s face it, these are the attributes needed for the goodies to win over the baddies in children’s stories. Still, it must be said that despite these standard tropes, the film’s script is lacklustre. While the movie might affect your eyeballs with its stunning (real, not CG) sets and costumes, it won’t affect your emotions quite so much. The key to Clara’s egg is not the only thing missing in The Nutcracker And The Four Realms.