The Nutcracker and the Four Realms
By Sandie Angulo Chen,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Disney's take on Christmas classic is colorful but intense.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Kids will learn a bit about the Nutcracker story (albeit with many twists). Story emphasizes Clara's (and her mother's) interest in machinery, science, and invention.
Positive messages about believing in yourself, using your talents, persevering, knowing when to ask for help, learning from mistakes. Clara's journey is filled with self-doubt, but once she learns to believe in her gifts and follow her instincts, things turn out for the best. Also depicts how loneliness, sadness can lead to bitterness and sense of abandonment. Characters tackle grief and figure out how to communicate through their pain. Clara is very interested in STEM-related subjects (invention, machinery, science); movie celebrates that.
Positive Role Models
Clara is clever, courageous, selfless. She wants to help bring peace to the Four Realms, even if it means leading a charge against enemy forces. She cares about her mother's creation and legacy in the Four Realms. She uses her smarts to repair what's broken. Captain Phillip is brave and attempts to protect Clara against those who might hurt her. Godfather Drosselmeyer is encouraging and supportive of Clara. Clara's father is in pain but trying his best with his kids. Supporting/background cast is notably diverse. Characters are betrayed by someone they trust.
Violence & Scariness
The mouse king, a large, creepy-looking creature made up of hundreds of constantly moving mice, is menacing toward Clara and Phillip and grabs people/carries them away covered in teeming mice. Soldiers use their swords. A group of unsettling clowns defends Mother Ginger's eerie, deserted-amusement-park lair and begins to attack Clara and Phillip. Peril/danger for Clara and Phillip. A battle between living toys leads to several close calls, including moments when it looks like Clara or Phillip will be injured or worse. Soldiers fall into holes dug in the dirt by mice (presumably they sprout out somewhere else; no human casualties are apparent). A carousel is crushed by a swarm of mice, and soldiers fall and look unconscious/unmoving. Mother Ginger's scarring could bother some kids. Clara's mother, Marie, has died; her death isn't shown, but a flashback suggests her pain/illness, and her surviving family members are very much grieving her loss.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Very mild flirting between Clara and Phillip. Sugar Plum makes a couple of suggestive-sounding remarks about the tin soldiers: "Hello, boys" and "boys in uniforms with weapons send a quiver right through me."
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One use of "damned." Also "poo" (as an exclamation), "oh my God," and some insults: "coward," "filthy," "lazy," "devilish."
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Products & Purchases
No product placement in the movie, but several offline tie-ins.
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is Disney's live-action adaptation of the classic Christmas ballet about young Clara (Mackenzie Foy), who receives a special gift from her godfather (Morgan Freeman). Here, departing from the usual version of the story, Clara gains access to a magical, Narnia-like world called the Four Realms, where she meets a brave Nutcracker soldier (Jayden Fowora-Knight), the Sugar Plum Fairy (Keira Knightley), Mother Ginger (Helen Mirren), and more. Expect some creepy scenes/characters that could be frightening to young kids, especially the Mouse King (he's a large, looming creature made out of thousands of small, teeming mice), Mother Ginger's unsettling security clowns, and a few battle scenes between opposing forces (swords are used). While there's no significant injury or death on-screen, main characters do face peril and betrayal, and both adults and children mourn the loss of Clara's beloved mother, Marie (her passing isn't shown, but her family is sad without her). Clara's interest in science/invention is celebrated, as are courage, perseverance, trusting yourself, and learning from your mistakes.
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The Nutcracker and the Four Realms
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What's the Story?
THE NUTCRACKER AND THE FOUR REALMS is Disney's live-action fantasy adventure based on the classic Tchaikovsky ballet. In this adaptation, Clara (Mackenzie Foy) is the middle of three Stahlberg children, who are marking their first Christmas since the death of their mother, Marie (Anna Madeley). Before their widower father (Matthew Macfadyen) takes them to a party at their godfather Drosselmeyer's (Morgan Freeman) home, he gives each child a gift from their late mother. Clara receives an ornate filigree egg that requires a key to open, along with a note that says "everything you need is inside." At the party, Clara's Christmas gift from her godfather leads her into a Narnia-like world called the Four Realms, where she hunts for the key to the egg and meets three of the land's three regents, including Sugar Plum (Keira Knightley). They claim that the fourth regent, Mother Ginger (Helen Mirren), is trying to take over all of the realms. Sugar Plum implores Clara to help bring peace to their world, so the girl and her trusted new friend, nutcracker soldier Phillip (Jayden Fowora-Knight), set out to save the day.
Is It Any Good?
This visually compelling adaptation should please younger holiday-movie fans, but even Misty Copeland's ballet performances may not be enough to enthrall those without kids. Which isn't to say that The Nutcracker and the Four Realms' expanded take on the classic Christmas ballet doesn't have an interesting premise. Here, Clara is no longer a passive observer but an active participant in defending and restoring the Four Realms. And there are certainly some moments of delight and wonder (Copeland dancing to Tchaikovsky's score, Clara's extravagant welcome party, the opulent sets and costumes). But there are also creepy parts -- like Mother Ginger's unsettling clowns, the teeming mice that form the giant Mouse King, and Sugar Plum's leering comments about the tin soldiers -- that feel like a departure from the movie's kid-friendly tone.
Foy is an undeniably appealing and expressive actor, and the film's young target audience will relate to her awestruck need to do what's right and what would make her mother proud. And the movie's Narnia-meets-Oz production design is colorful and evocative; you can imagine scores of elementary-age moviegoers feeling invested in Clara's adventure. But the storytelling falls short of being grand enough to replace the ballet as the definitive version of the Nutcracker. If anything, Copeland's brief appearances will likely make adult audiences long for a performance of the original ballet. (Plus, having such big stars in supporting roles makes the plot's "twists" somewhat predictable.) At least Foy's plucky Clara leads a charge and learns her worth as she defends this fantasy world. It's just that this Nutcracker isn't quite enchanting enough to become a classic.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about the violence in The Nutcracker and the Four Realms. Does fantasy violence have a different impact than realistic violence?
Who acts like a role model in the movie? What character strengths do they display? How does Clara exhibit courage and perseverance?
Which parts of the movie were scary to you? Why? How much scary stuff can young kids handle?
How do Clara and her father and siblings deal with their grief about the loss of Marie? What about the regents? Is there a "right" and a "wrong" way to mourn or handle pain?
Discuss the differences between the classic Nutcracker tale and this adaptation. What changes did you like? What, if anything, do you wish they'd kept from the original story?
- In theaters: November 2, 2018
- On DVD or streaming: January 29, 2019
- Cast: Keira Knightley, Morgan Freeman, Mackenzie Foy
- Director: Lasse Hallstrom
- Inclusion Information: Black actors
- Studio: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Magic and Fantasy, Princesses, Fairies, Mermaids, and More, Adventures, Arts and Dance, Friendship, Holidays
- Character Strengths: Courage, Perseverance
- Run time: 99 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: some mild peril
- Last updated: February 18, 2023
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