Now in theaters – “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms,” Disney’s elaborate take on the classic Tchaikovsky ballet. This story is a holiday essential, perennially recreated by theaters in every city. This rendition from Disney is full of fanfare, star power and CGI scenes, but decidedly lacking in ballet or holiday cheer.
“The Nutcracker and the Four Realms” opens on Christmas Eve as a father unveils to his three children the last gifts left to them by their now deceased mother. Clara (Mackenzie Foy), the crafty middle child, is gifted a mysterious ornate egg with a lock that not even she can pick. The family leaves to celebrate the holiday at the home of the children’s godfather, Drosselmeyer (Morgan Freeman), where Clara’s curiosity leads her into a magical alternate universe on a quest left by her mother. There, Clara meets the toy soldier Phillip (Jayden Fowora-Knight), as well as the rulers of the realms of sweets, snowflakes and flowers.
From here the movie dissolves into confusion almost entirely unrelated to its namesake ballet. The films elaborate universe is composed of four distinct zones, but spends most of its time in a Russian palace, and a haunted forest infested with turn of the century circus iconography. The movie’s imagery careens wildly from over CGI’d uncanny valley territory into disturbing scenes of rat infestations and clown attacks. The overall effect belongs more to the Halloween season than the Christmas one.
The most acceptable part of this movie is the appearances Misty Copeland, prima ballerina and the first African America principal dancer in the history of the American Ballet Theatre. Copland first appears to dance a history of the conflict in the Four Realms, and then reappears during the credits for an extended modern take on the choreography.
This film is technically based on the story “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” by E.T.A. Hoffman, so I suppose they were not obligated to make a cinematic ballet. But its still hard to understand why you would make a big budget rendition of the most famous and profitable ballet in the United States or the world, and include almost no dancing. The movie does not even indulge in Tchaikovsky’s compositions, periodically playing a few iconic notes before darting off in a new direction.
Despite all this, “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms” is still vaguely entertaining, if you can overcome the confusion of a Christmas ballet with no cheer or dancing. I would wait to see this movie at home, and spend your holiday entertainment time and money going to one of the many “Nutcracker” productions near you.