Disney’s take on The Nutcracker and the Mouse King from 1816 is a spellbinding fusion of magic, mystery and classical music, sprinkled with beautiful ballet sequences starring Misty Copeland from the American Ballet Theatre. An outstanding cast in colourful costumes and terrific CGI editing have modernised the historical Christmas story to make a visually delicious adaptation, especially enjoyable for younger audiences.
The reworking of the classic fairy-tale offers an inventive lead female, who is heroic primarily for her smarts rather than her beauty, similar to Disney’s rebooted Belle.
We meet Clara Stahlbaum (Mackenzie Foy) on Christmas Eve and learn that her mother has died (how unlikely of Disney to recycle the ‘absent mother’ cliché!) Having foreseen her own death, Mrs Stahlbaum leaves Clara an enigmatic mechanical egg that holds ‘all she could ever need’ inside but, unhelpfully, no key to open it. Determined to uncover her mother’s mystery, Clara seeks out the wisdom of her godfather, Drosselmeyer, played by Morgan Freeman. With his cunning, she soon reaches a whole new world blanketed in snow much like Narnia – although there is no Mr Tumnus to greet her.
Clara at last finds her key: in the tiny hands of a pesky mouse! Determined to take what is hers, Clara fumbles through the snowy woodland after the rodent. It is in this Clara-and-mouse chase that she meets the kingdom’s only living Nutcracker soldier, Captain Phillip Hoffmann (Jayden Fowora-Knight). The name is a nod to the original narrative’s author, Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann who often narcissistically named his heroes after himself. Thankfully, Captain Phillip is much more earnest than Ernst and makes sure Clara is safe for the rest of her adventures. With a narrow escape from the sinister Mother Ginger (Helen Mirren), ruler of the apocalyptic ‘Fourth Realm’ of Amusements, Phillip and Clara forget the key and race to the safety of the castle.
It is from this point that the movie really shines, largely thanks to Keira Knightley’s performance as the Sugar Plum Fairy.
A sickly sweet-treat, her overjoyed persona is as addictive as sugar and just the subtlest gesture from her communicates more emotion than Kristen Stewart could ever show as Snow White. Sugar Plum is joined by the Flower Realm King (Eugenio Derbez) and the Snowflake King (Richard E. Grant), leader of the millennials some might say, and this eccentric trio throw a ball for Clara, their princess.
During her royal welcome, a ballet performance explains her mother’s discovery of the kingdom and, although the editing isn’t as graceful, the dancing scenes are entrancing. Accompanied by a modernised version of Tchaikovsky’s classic 1892 ballet score, the cinematography brings the performance to life as though you are truly seeing it live in a ballet theatre. These divine dances are few and far-between but thankfully a longer performance is shown during the end credits. If anything, the film will leave you wanting to be a ballerina or at least watch a traditional ballet.
Of course, Disney still has its politicised flaws, the cringiest in this case being the uncomfortably close daughter-father relationship between Clara and Mr Stahlbaum (Matthew Macfadyen). The ending is almost unwatchable as they romantically dance to the same song he and his late wife first danced to. Clara is frequently compared to her mother throughout the film and returning to her father it almost feels as though she has become the film’s motherly wife figure. Be that as it may, the film as a whole is certainly entertaining although it takes time to warm up to its best features. Much of the acting is like a slapstick pantomime so the film is definitely a cracking Christmas viewing for young children and families.
Picture by epicantus