'The Nutcracker and the Four Realms' Review: Disney's Dark Twist on a Classic

By Desiree Murphy‍
Copyright (c) 2018 CBS Studios Inc. All Rights Reserved.

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is not a full-fledged dance movie, but there are plenty of twists and turns that will keep you on your toes. Disney's latest live-action adventure movie re-imagines E.T.A. Hoffman's tale of The Nutcracker and The Mouse King, which in 1892 was turned into a ballet based on Alexandre Dumas père's adaptation of the story.

Directed by Lasse Hallström and Joe Johnston (Chocolat and Captain America: The First Avenger, respectively), the new version still takes viewers on an adventure with Clara Stahlbaum (played by Mackenzie Foy this time) through the Land of Snowflakes, Land of Flowers and Land of Sweets, as well as an additional stop into a new fourth realm that's filled with darkness and disaster.

For those who grew up with the classic story, brace yourself for some bold, potentially divisive changes to the plotline. Although the traditional tale varies slightly in every production, this rendition has a drastically different story from the one we know and love, with a shocking twist that will leave you questioning everything you thought you knew. So, if you're planning to head to theaters when the film opens this weekend, do go in with an open mind and expect the unexpected.

For starters, in the ballet, we only get a slight glimpse of evil in the first act, when Clara is visited in her dreams by a malicious Mouse King and his army of mice after her godfather gifts her with a wooden Nutcracker during the family's Christmas party. As the dream continues, the Nutcracker comes alive to battle with the Mouse King, though it's ultimately Clara -- often by the throwing of a ballet slipper -- that saves the day, transforming the Nutcracker back into a Prince and breaking the curse that was cast upon him.

And while Clara is still positioned to become some sort of a hero in Disney's re-telling, everything is different, far less sweet and, at certain points, far more peculiar. The new rendition takes place following the loss of Clara's mother, Marie (Anna Madeley), who was Queen and creator of this magical kingdom prior to her death. (This is a clever nod to Hoffman's original story, and some versions of The Nutcracker ballet, where the main character's moniker is Marie and not Clara).

Yet it's a bit perplexing that Clara never receives an actual Nutcracker in this version -- after all, that's where her magical story usually begins! Instead, Clara's father (Matthew Macfadyen) gives her a quirky present from her late mother, one that frustrates when she discovers there is no key to unlock it. Godfather Drosselmeyer (Morgan Freeman) explains to Clara that, like her mother, she needs to go on a quest to find the true meaning of the gift. It's not until she adventures into this mysterious world that she's finally introduced to a Nutcracker character, a real-life toy soldier who is referred to as Captain Philip (Jayden Fowora-Wright).

As Clara prepares herself to enter the eerie Fourth Realm, she learns that a war has erupted in the kingdom, and the Sugar Plum Fairy (Keira Knightley, as bubbly and vibrant as her cotton candy hair) explains to her that Mother Ginger (an over-the-top, but underused, Helen Mirren) had something to do with it. But seeing as this character is typically the most cheery, beloved roles in The Nutcracker ballet, it does feel a bit odd trying to accept Mother Ginger, or anyone from The Land of the Sweets for that matter, as a villain.

Still, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms features plenty of treats. With intricate costumes -- like Sugar Plum's layered ballgown and Clara's final ensemble -- and makeup so detailed it would give the characters from The Hunger Games a run for their money, these style details are candy for the eyes. And while the story feels like a Halloween movie at parts, there are some truly haunting animations in the Fourth Realm, the score captures the essence of the Christmas spirit perfectly. The re-invented versions of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's classic Nutcracker tunes, including, "Waltz of the Flowers" and "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy," will have you feeling all sorts of nostalgic, and Misty Copeland's performance as the Princess Ballerina will give you chills.

The principal dancer from the American Ballet Theatre makes her big screen debut toward the beginning of the film, in what was, at least for us, one of the most magical scenes in the film. Copeland doesn't have any lines, but represents ballet flawlessly, telling the story of the four realms through dance. You'll also want to stay for the credits, as Copeland appears again for a beautiful number that features Charles"Lil Buck" Riley and Zachary Catazaro. It's Copeland's scenes that most capture the magic of the classic tale, and though parts of Disney's new Nutcracker may fall short, it's an adventure that will still leave visions of sugar plums dancing in audience's heads.

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Copyright (c) 2018 CBS Studios Inc. All Rights Reserved.