Christmas: In Defense of ‘The Nutcracker and the Four Realms’

Promotional image of Mackenzie Foy in ‘The Nutcracker and the Four Realms’. Copyright of Walt Disney Pictures.

Hi! It’s Annie!

Yes, I do realize that this came out a couple years ago, but I actually just watched it yesterday and had some thoughts on it. I think you could say that the reaction to this movie was almost violently bad. Whether it was someone critiquing the movie for a misuse of actors, Keira Knightley’s voice for the Sugar Plum Fairy, or just the fact that it was a Nutcracker adaptation at all, people just couldn’t like this movie. And while most considered this movie forgettable, the dislike of it trended across social media platforms for a while after it came out. I have to admit, when I saw the first trailer for this I was excited. I’ve always loved seeing adaptations of the Nutcracker and Keira Knightley is one of my favorite actresses of all time. When I heard that people thought it was bad, I was disappointed and almost convinced that all the reviews were correct. I haven’t liked the majority of Disney live action films. Even if this one is, thankfully, original and not based off of one of their previous movies that really doesn’t need a remake. Recently when I looked up reviews, however, I saw many people comparing their dislike of this film to their dislike of Tim Burton’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’. I understand that I am one of few when I say that I actually really like that movie (Though ‘Alice: Through the Looking Glass’ was absolutely awful). So would this adaptation of the Nutcracker be as bad as everyone said it was? After watching the movie I can honestly say that I think a lot of the ire directed at this movie is misplaced. I’m going to go over all the major arguments made against this movie and try and see if I can dispute at least some of them. Warning: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD. Ready? Great!

It wasn’t enough like the Nutcracker:

I can’t as much dispute this as come up with an argument against it. Because, no it wasn’t. I almost wish that the mother would have been Clara and the main character of this would have been Clara’s daughter. This is not really the story of the Nutcracker as much as it is a story inside of that world. And believe me, the world of the Nutcracker was gorgeous. One of my favorite things about this movie was the incredibly transporting design of everything inside the Four Realms. I think you might be disappointed if you go into this movie expecting a completely faithful adaptation of the Nutcracker story, but there’s actually a bit here if you go into it with more of an open mind. If you look at it as an extension of the story, I would say that it’s probably much more believable. And most adaptations of the Nutcracker add things on anyways considering the original ballet is an hour long story told through dance and has no dialogue. This movie also has Nutcracker music playing throughout as the score, so in that way it stays true to the original ballet as well.

What was going on with the Nutcracker character?:

This is an argument I didn’t fully understand. The Nutcracker is the first friend Clara makes when she enters the Four Realms, and he stays by her side for the majority of the rest of the film. He’s given some great character moments and he’s never forgotten about, they do constantly use him for important things within the plot. He is the secondary main character. I saw a lot of people say that he was forgettable and I didn’t find this at all to be true. He was one of my favorite characters in the movie and I never found myself having to wait to hear him say something or having to look around for him in a scene. And of course the story would focus on Clara more! The Nutcracker is not just the title character in this film, he’s also the title character of the original ballet whose main character is also- guess who- Clara. I also saw a lot of people dissatisfied with the build up to a romance between him and Clara, in which I have to say that there really wasn’t one there. At the end of the movie there was a strong friendship and maybe a hint at something more if you squint, but not much else. And I don’t think there was supposed to be. The relationship ended up the way the writing seemed to want it to end up. I will admit that sometimes it’s weird to remember that he’s actually the Nutcracker, but in the original ballet the Nutcracker turns into a handsome prince almost right away. Though this guy isn’t a prince, he serves the same role as Clara’s protector throughout her journey.

Where was Misty Copeland?:

This is another argument against the movie that I don’t entirely understand. Did you fall asleep? There’s an entire segment of ballet starring Misty Copeland in this movie that is actually extremely reminiscent of the original ballet. It is a gorgeous piece that is not too short that you would say that there’s barely any ballet in this film, but isn’t so long that it detracts from the plot. It was honestly one of my favorite parts of this movie. She also dances again throughout the entirety of the end credits in a mini-story that, like traditional ballet, has no dialogue. I personally felt that she was well-used.

Why would you portray the Sugar Plum Fairy like that?:

This is something I don’t have an answer for. I honestly couldn’t decide whether I liked her character or not. Her voice in this movie was not nearly annoying as everyone made it out to be. It wasn’t great, but I didn’t think it was at all unbearable. I didn’t have a huge problem with her character being evil. I will say that it hurt me a little because the Sugar Plum Fairy is one of my favorite characters from the original story, if not my favorite. I was really excited when I heard Keira Knightley would be playing her, but that excitement went down a bit once I realized she was the main villain. In the end, I was open to this being a different adaptation, so I didn’t have a problem with it in theory. Not only that, but Keira Knightley is absolutely having fun in this role and it’s infectious. They just didn’t give this character enough reason to be evil. This could have been fine, but it felt almost like the movie needed to be longer. The film is just over an hour and a half, which is pretty short for a live action movie these days. They could have used maybe another ten minutes or so to develop this plot point a bit more.

The A-list actors were misused or phoning it in:

I didn’t really find this to be the case. To me it looked like Morgan Freeman, Mathew Macfayden, Keira Knightley, and Helen Mirren were all having the time of their lives. The movie was lighthearted, so the actors also seemed to keep it lighthearted. But not in the way where they didn’t take this seriously. They all just seemed to have fun with it. Especially Keira Knightley. I said it once, but I will say it again, it looked like she was having SO much fun. They used each of these actors’ characters well and there wasn’t one that they barely used. I thought that this was handled well. Also, seeing Mackenzie Foy hug Helen Mirren at the end of the movie was nothing short of adorable.

The story felt shallow:

If you’re looking for a deep and dark portrayal of the Nutcracker, you aren’t going to find it here. In fact, I’m not quite sure where you would find that. The Nutcracker has always been pretty lighthearted. I mean, the original ballet has the Mouse King die pretty early on and the rest of it is mostly Clara exploring the world of the Nutcracker. The original story is almost like Alice in Wonderland but if the people Alice met were pleasant and not completely insane. They didn’t really change that aspect of it for this film. It’s a lighthearted Christmas movie and probably the most cohesive version of the Nutcracker I’ve ever seen when it comes to plot.

I still had my issues with this movie, but I could see myself watching this during the Christmas season years from now. It is not the best thing I’ve ever seen by any means, but it’s a cute and enjoyable romp for Christmas. It certainly never deserved all of the hate that it got. But I also will admit that I’m biased. I have a Nutcracker ornament that it’s tradition for me to hang on the tree with my family every year since before I can remember and a strong connection to the story because of it. There are not many good film adaptations of the Nutcracker, and I was really glad to see one that I could get behind. So, if you’re anything like me and was interested in watching ‘The Nutcracker and the Four Realms’ and then didn’t because of bad reviews; just ignore them and watch it anyways. You might enjoy it, like I did.

See you across the pond!

Sincerely, Annie

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