Disney’s re-imagining of classic ballet The Nutcracker feels like a candy-cane clad collage of The Chronicles of Narnia and Alice in Wonderland. That is, the time-old story of an unassuming young girl who wanders into a magical land only to discover she’s royalty, and now must save the kingdom from evil.
Clara and her siblings are mourning the loss of their mother, whilst their father struggles to keep up appearances. Her mother left her a mysterious mechanical egg that has a lock but no key, accompanied by a note explaining: ‘everything you need is inside.’ Frustrated, Clara seeks the help of her inventor godfather and he sends her to The Four Realms, where she is to discover for herself what her mother meant.
The film is strongest when it doesn’t hold back on the theatrics, especially so on eerie period costume scares. One of the most memorable moments, both in terms of its creepiness and spellbinding costume design, is when Clara encounters our villain Mother Ginger face-to-face for the first time. She is flung by a King Kong-sized mechanical Mother Ginger into her tent skirt to meet a group of clowns. They don’t speak, only laugh maniacally, and jump in and out of each other doing flips like Russian dolls. It’s utterly terrifying.
Another highlight is Misty Copeland in a dazzling ballet sequence chronicling Clara’s mother’s discovery of the realms. The principal dancer of the American Ballet Theatre lights up the screen while sweeping camera shots follow her intricacies on pointe. Jayden Fowora-Knight as the nutcracker soldier himself is also perfectly charming; the whole cast gives the film their complete conviction. Both Helen Mirren and Morgan Freeman seem more than at home fully immersing themselves in their roles as the kooky inventor and the circus ring-woman, and it’s especially fun to see the former taking down armies of tin soldiers with a whip. However, they are severely underused – Mirren is quite literally in just three scenes. Mackenzie Foy as Clara unfortunately feels rather wooden; her perfect poise and dainty voice feel as though this young adventurous Clara, who is shown to have an interest in science, suddenly underwent some sort of princess training. No personality is shown here other than that of an old-school carbon-copy ‘Disney princess.’
The audience this film is for will relish every minute. I felt like a child again almost immediately due to the picturesque Victorian Christmas and perfect petticoats, even the score sent tingles down my spine. Yet, despite the best efforts of its cast and some memorable set pieces, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms feels like a hollow shell of what it could have been, had it been a half hour longer and explored the realms rather than just glanced over them.
by Millicent Thomas
Millicent Thomas is a proud Mancunian who will be studying film at Bath School of Art & Design from September 2018. Hobbies include theatre, museums and waiting for Charles Xavier to show up and tell her she’s the world’s most powerful mutant. Her favourite films include Whiplash, Her, Logan and Short Term 12. You can follow her on Instagram at @millicentathomas and twitter at @millicentonfilm