The Nutcracker and the Four Realms Parent Guide
This particular take on The Nutcracker is pretty and sugary sweet but ultimately hollow and unsatisfying.
Parent Movie Review
Watching a ballet performance of The Nutcracker has become a holiday tradition for many families. This 19th century fairy tale about a girl whose toy nutcracker comes to life is most famous for its unmistakable music and whimsical characters. It’s also gone through countless film and stage adaptations—something Disney is clearly mindful of in this latest installment. If you’re looking for a faithful retelling of the classic, you can forget it. This version is deliberately different.
Our protagonist is a young girl named Clara (Mackenzie Foy) who’s devastated by the recent death of her mother and not too keen on joining her family’s Christmas celebrations. This puts her at odds with her father (Matthew Macfadyen,) who insists she attend an annual party hosted by her mysterious Godfather Drosselmeyer, (Morgan Freeman.) And good thing too, because her godfather has prepared a very special gift for the gloomy pre-teen. At the end of a rather spooky hallway, Clara discovers the entrance to another world and steps out into the snowy forest of The Four Realms—lands of snowflakes, flowers, sugary sweets, and carnival amusements loosely inspired by the original ballet.
But all is not well. After exploring the icy landscape with no apparent discomfort (in dancing shoes and short sleeves—this is definitely magic snow) Clara stumbles across the movie’s namesake, a living, full sized nutcracker soldier, (Jayden Fowora-Knight.) The helpful chap explains that the carnival realm is at war with the other three and wandering about willy-nilly might be dangerous. When the stubborn girl insists on crossing the border into the troublesome territory anyway, she’s quickly attacked by a writhing monster made of hundreds of scurrying mice. This CGI creature is unsettling to say the least. If you have a phobia of rodents, you’ll want to sit this one out.
Parents with sensitive little ones might also want to note that giant, squirmy mouse-monsters aren’t the only frightening visuals. The land of carnival amusements has seen better days, and features plenty of leering sculptures and broken fair rides that emerge eerily from the fog. It’s also home to a host of hyperactive clowns who spring from one another’s rotund bodies like matryoshka dolls - those Russian nesting dolls that are actually pretty cool when they don’t wear creepy clown faces or crawl around on the floor. This nightmarish imagery is too dark for younger kids and makes moments of sword fighting action and even the hero’s peril in the final battle seem somewhat anticlimactic.
Though the movie attempts the heartwarming messages of self confidence and cherishing family relationships, these moments don’t have the support of the script to make them meaningful. Instead, the inevitable transformation of our hero from a timid and heartbroken girl to a strong and capable young woman feels forced and (dare I say?)…boring. With the film’s “believe in yourself” themes and strong dose of girl power, Clara proves an almost identical character to Disney’s other recent leading ladies, such as Moana or Frozen’s Anna or Elsa.
In contrast to the shallow plot, costumes and set pieces are lavishly over the top. Ballgowns are strung with lights and glitter, makeup and hairstyles are detailed and elaborate, and Clara’s fantasy world is drenched in color. The film is visually stunning, and while this adds to the experience, it can’t salvage the poor pacing and weak characters. Like a mouthful of cotton candy, this particular take on The Nutcracker is pretty and sugary sweet, but ultimately hollow.Directed by Lasse Hallström, Joe Johnston. Starring Keira Knightley, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren. Running time: 99 minutes. Theatrical release November 2, 2018. Updated January 30, 2019
Watch the trailer for The Nutcracker and the Four Realms
The Nutcracker and the Four Realms
Rating & Content Info
Why is The Nutcracker and the Four Realms rated PG? The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is rated PG by the MPAA for some mild peril
Violence: Animals are chased by predators and caught in traps. Characters are frightened by monstrous creatures, scary circus performers, and threaten and intimidate each other. Characters engage in sword fighting, or use fist fighting and kicking in combat situations. Characters are captured, disappear down holes, and are nearly crushed by a collapsing structure. A character jumps from a tall building, climbs down a rocky precipice, and is often in peril.
Sexual Content: Characters wear tight and low cut dresses, one character uses flirty and mildly suggestive language.
Profanity: Infrequent mild profanity and slang terms.
Alcohol / Drug Use: None noted.
Page last updated January 30, 2019
The Nutcracker and the Four Realms Parents' Guide
To save The Four Realms, Clara must use her talents with confidence. What talents do you have? How can you use them to help others
Read books about The Nutcracker and the Four Realms
Susan Jeffers’ classic picture book of The Nutcracker is a beautiful retelling of the traditional ballet suitable for readers of all ages.
Young readers will also enjoy the Angelina Ballerina series by Katharine Holabird and Helen Craig.
Anyone in love with ballet can dive into Noel Streatfeild’s classic novel Ballet Shoes.
Jessica Day George has created an exciting retelling of the fairy tale of the twelve dancing princesses. Entitled Princess of the Midnight Ball, this novel mixes magic, dance, and danger with dance. This tale is also retold by Heather Dixon Wallwork in Entwined. Both novels contain moments of peril and are suitable for readers aged 10 and up.
Also by Heather Dixon Wallwork is The Enchanted Sonata, an imaginative re-working of the Nutcracker story. In this tale, Clara is a brilliant pianist who is magically transported to the land of Imperia to work with a giant Nutcracker and save the people from a musical magician and a plague of giant rats. Music, magic, and romance make this a great read for teens and tweens.
Teens who enjoy dance and danger can try reading Tasha Alexander’s murder mystery, Death in St. Petersburg. This novel tells the story of the murder of a ballerina and mentions mistresses and alcohol use, as well as non-explicit allusions to a sexual relationship between a married couple.
Related home video titles:
Can’t get enough of the Nutcracker? Young fans will doubtless enjoy Barbie in the Nutcracker
Older viewers might enjoy Step Up and its positive messages about dancers who take responsibility and work hard to achieve their goals.DVD/Blu-ray Release
Disney’s Nutcracker and the Four Realms released on DVD and Blu-ray on 29 January 2019. The two disc set, which also contains a digital download code, brings home Disney’s visually stunning adaptation of the classic Christmas ballet. Although the Blu-ray comes with the expected bonus features, viewers may find themselves feeling a bit let down at the gap between what Disney is capable of and what it delivers.
On Pointe: Misty Copeland features an interview with the famed ballerina in which she speaks glowingly of her experience in dancing in the film. This segment features some interesting insights on the difference between performing on stage and in the movie. It would have benefited from greater background on Ms. Copeland, particularly her career history. While ballet devotees are familiar with Ms. Copeland’s artistry, other viewers are not and would enjoy more backstory on the dancer.
Unwrapping The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is an introduction to the sets and costumes of the feature film. Here Disney is playing to its strengths. The movie is a glorious Christmas confection with jaw-dropping sets and lovely costumes. Interviews with the set and costume designers are illuminating: the only problem being that they are much too short.
The Blu-ray also comes with deleted scenes, which will be of interest to die-hard fans, but are unlikely to grab anyone else’s attention.
The bonus features wrap up with two music videos. “Fall on Me”, which features the impressive musical talents of Andrea and Matteo Bocelli, will doubtless appeal to Bocelli fans but is unlikely to win new adherents. And the new version of Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker Suite" by Lang Lang is problematic. The addition of vocals to the instrumental score is not an improvement. And the scenes involving Misty Copeland are less enchanting than they could be. It is obvious that she is on a sound stage and given Disney’s unmatched ability to create immersive, believable fantasy worlds, this feels….cheap.
While the Blu-ray release of The Nutcracker and the Four Realms allows home viewers to enjoy the lovely visuals and music of the theatrical release, it still disappoints. Just as the film’s plot doesn’t equal its design, the Blu-ray falls short. The bonus features simply don’t live up to the potential Disney is capable of achieving.
DVD Review by Kirsten Hawkes, 30 January 2019