I have seen Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker” ballet multiple times in my life and at Christmas, the entire musical arrangement is played multiple times. When Disney announced they were adapting the classic ballet I was apprehensive. As images were released with costumes my apprehension faded to wonder and then excitement aside from some hesitation for the plot. I already purchased the Sugar Plum FunkoPop figure based on the photos of the dress because I was that excited for the costumes.
The opening of the Nutcracker and the Four Realms swoops over on Victorian England into the Stahlbaum home. We come to find out Clara and her siblings are grieving the loss of her mother during Christmas with their father. He gives them each a gift she planned. Clara has a golden egg without a key but the note reads, “Everything you need is inside.” Just like the ballet, godfather Drosselmeyer’s (Morgan Freeman) hosts an annual Christmas party handing out presents to the children. The difference from the ballet is the gifts are connected to colored threads leading the children around. Clara’s gift ribbon is gold leading her down a hallway into the magical, nearly parallel world. She seeks the key to her golden egg where she meets a soldier named Philip (Jayden Fowora-Knight). She crosses over into the mysterious fourth realm encountering the mice king and Mother Ginger (Helen Mirren). Once back in the palace she meets the regents of the other 3 realms Sugar Plum (Keira Knightley), Hawthorne, (Eugenio Derbez), & Shiver (Richard E. Grant). From here the rest of the story is pure fantasy.
Nutcracker and the Four Realms adds dialog and visuals over elements of Tchaikovsky’s cues combined with the new score taking me back to my childhood and the classic ballet. Throughout the film, there are references to the ballet bringing nostalgia to the “Nutcracker” fan. To an unknowing child, the references merely add to the story. One of the most disgusting references is the mouse king, which may be one of the better uses of CGI in the film. I was squirming in my seat the entire time. Each land was distinct and short shortly shown with the exception for the fourth realm, Land of Amusements, which has the most screen time.
There were moments where the CGI was good and moments were it did not connect. The film has The Chronicles of Narnia feel to when Clara exits the hallway into a snowy new world. The transition was beautifully done. Mouse Rex, leader of the mouse king, is a classic Disney cartoon sidekick. He steals moments from the actors around him. As I previously mentioned, the mouse king was one the best uses of CGI in the film. Where the CGI doesn’t connect is in the blending of actors and the backgrounds. A few scenes requiring background CGI and actors were visually rough and distracting reducing the visual impact of the Nutcracker and the Four Realms.
I refused to give up on Disney’s adaptation of a ballet knowing prima ballerina Misty Copeland was listed as Ballerina Princess. True to “The Nutcracker,” dance shows us a story and here it is used to tell a story to Clara with the addition of Sugar Plum’s exposition. This first ballet is midway through the film. Copeland is graceful and a role model for young dancers. She performs pirouettes with a CGI flower placed at the center of her toe shoe. I was so excited with the pointe toe precision and CGI detail pointed I this out to the person next to me. Stay for the end credits as Copeland features a modern ballet. This is in far contrast with the Victorian England setting of the film but it pairs well with the video Disney cut of pianist Lang Lang playing “The Nutcracker Suite”.
Copeland’s primary costume is appropriately romantic opposed to a pancake tutu. It enhances her movement and bringing the music to life through visual communication. In ballet costumes convey the plot, the story as it unfolds. I was able to look beyond the costume and watch her dance. I did not lose sight of the dancer in the costume.
Costumes were designed by Oscar award-winning Costume designer Jenny Beavan. Each costume had textures and layers. No detail was left out for the Nutcracker and the Four Realms. From every one of Clara’s costumes to the singular costumes of Philip, Mother Ginger, Sugar Plum, Hawthorne, & Shiver they all had distinct representative character traits. Clara changed into a white and gold pageant gown with the assistance of Sugar Plum. I literally leaned forward in my seat captivated by the embroidery, pearl beading and, organza fabric detailing. Every time Sugar Plum moved up or down stairs and into certain areas I watched the gorgeous dress covered in ruffles resembling sugar crystals move effortlessly with the Knightley. Mother Ginger’s face make-up appears cracked like a porcelain doll tieing together her tattered ragtime ringmaster costume. “There’s one side of acting that I have always loved, and that’s the costume side,” Dame Helen Mirren mentioned in a featurette released for The Nutcracker and the Four Realms.
Nutcracker and the Four Realms still a color-filled adventure short enough for children at 99 minutes and delightful the child at heart. If you allow it, it will guide you into whimsy with just enough emotional heart to surprise you.