An Over-Decorated, Under-baked Sugar Plum Pie


Written by Mariam Esber , Journalist

“The Nutcracker and the Four Realms”

A Movie Review

Since its conception by author E.T.A Hoffmann, the beloved Christmastime tale, “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” has been retold by countless masters (Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Alexandre Dumas), and butchered only by one: Disney, in a disappointingly lacking, cliché plot covered up by sickeningly overwhelming layers of ornamentation (imagine if Narnia and Wonderland threw up in the same bucket…yeah…my eyes are still gagging).

The movie begins in London, where an erudite and passionate young lady with a love of physics and engineering, Clara Stahlbaum (Mackenzie Foy), along with her siblings Louise (Ellie Bamber) and Fitz Stahlbaum (Tom Sweet) prepare to attend a Christmas ball at their mysterious godfather Drosselmeyer’s (Morgan Freeman) festive, and somewhat creepy, mansion. Despite the holiday excitement, the recent death of their mother, Maria Stahlbaum (Anna Madeley) leaves the family extremely crestfallen and “lost,” especially Clara and her father (Matthew MacFadyen). Before they depart to the ball, Mr. Stahlbaum gathers his children by the Christmas tree and gives each of them the last gift their mother left. Fitz receives a set of toy soldiers, Louise her mother’s favorite dress, and Clara a peculiar and dull Flabergé-like egg with a note that reads:

“To my beautiful Clara,

Everything you need is inside.

Love, Mother.”

Now, that’s all incredibly exciting. Only one problem: the key is missing, and the lock is of a unique sort that are impossible to pick.

Fully aware of her godfather’s virtuosic tinkering abilities, Clara neglects her father’s wish for her “not to disappear” to seek  Drosselmeyer out in his lair and inquire as to the whereabouts of the key to her egg. Drosselmeyer, with an interestingly knowing grin, informs her that he does not have what Clara is searching for

When the time comes for presents to be opened, each guest has a special  rope to follow that leads to their gift (Drosselmeyer sure is creative). Clara, following her bright gold rope, is led into a dark corridor that ends her up in a seemingly Narnia-like snowy forest where she meets the character Disney butchered the most, Philip, the nutcracker guard soldier… NOT CURSED PRINCE… just guard soldier, and, as later revealed, NOT LOVE INTEREST like in Tchaikovsky’s ballet, but a sort of sad, friend-zoned companion.  She also almost obtains the key, though it ends up stolen by a little mouse from the obscure fourth realm led by a supposedly nefarious and psychotic ex-regent, Mother Ginger (GASP).

The rest of the film focuses solely upon a “war” (though no battles are shown or spoken of) between the Land of Flowers, represented by the flamboyant regent Hawthorne (Eugenio Derbez), the Land of Snowflakes, represented by regent Shiver (Richard E. Grant), true to his name, and the Land of Sweets, represented by the squeaky Sugar Plum Fairy (Keira Knightley). These three realms are at a causeless war (seriously…we know almost nothing about why it started in the first place) with Ginger’s fourth realm (*whispers* the Land of Amusements). Although, PLOT TWIST, the only deranged psycho is the Sugar Plum Fairy, one of the sweetest characters in the original “Nutcracker.” This curveball would have been clever if only it were executed well (it wasn’t). Sugar Plum has no real motive as a villain. The squeamish fairy merely claims that she wants power in order to “protect herself” after Maria Stahlbaum, the late queen of the realms, “betrayed everyone” by choosing to return to London in lieu of ruling directly over her people. This makes it seem like Sugar Plum was in some sort of relationship with the queen and felt personally attacked by her departure, as no one else pledges their allegiance to Sugar Plum’s “cause” (if I can call it that), forcing her to bring to life an army of hollow tin soldiers to do her bidding.

In the end, the realms are all restored due to Clara and Mother Ginger’s efforts (yes, she’s not evil despite her bizarre and somewhat disturbing realm and personal appearance) and Sugar Plum is disposed of, but we learn nothing of how the realms came to be or how Clara’s mother discovered them in the first place. The audience only learns that  she was crowned queen before she passed away, leaving Clara heir.

Philip escorts Clara back to the Christmas Tree Forest, where nothing mushy happens at all (not even a clear expression of sentiment), and Clara returns home with a supposedly crystal clear sense of identity (though it’s not too crystal for the audience) and patches things up with her broken father.

All-in-all, the film proved poorly structured. The CGI was impressive at times (Mouse King) but incredibly over-the-top at others. Too much spectacle, too little substance overall. The characters bore no depth, and the heroine underwent no significant transformation.

The only redeeming qualities the movie had were the magnificent soundtrack (thank you, Lang Lang and Tchaikovsky) and the majestic ballet choreography (which was sparse). To sum everything up in two words: “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms” was pretty boring (literally). Don’t waste your money on this curt, under-developed spectacle, folks. Go watch the Joffrey Nutcracker in Chicago instead. You won’t regret it!