Review – Disney’s Cracked Nuts (“The Nutcracker & The Four Realms”)

How about this: combine the classic music and ballet of that famous 1892 Russian ballet, The Nutcracker, and throw in fantastic elements of Alice in Wonderland,Babes In Toyland, The 10th Kingdom, The Chronicles of Narnia, and A Wrinkle in Time. Also, ya gotta toss in a strong, independent female heroine, because, well, it’s 2018, right?

Unless you’ve been living in cave, you already know about the iconic Nutcracker story: young Clara gets a wooden nutcracker toy from Herr Drosselmeyer on Christmas Eve. In a dream fantasy, the nutcracker soldier battles the evil Mouse King in the Land of Sweets, ruled by the Sugar Plum Fairy. This, of course, is all done to Tchaikovsky‘s incredible music and wonderful ballet dancing. Now, forget all of that because Disney has usurped the entire story line and given us this:

It’s Christmas Eve in 1800’s London and everyone’s happy. Everyone, that is, except 14-year-old inventor & mechanic Clara Stahlbaum (Mackenzie Foy) whose mother has just passed away. But her mum left her a strange gift: a mysterious golden egg that needs a missing key to unlock it. Hmmm… maybe a trip to a Prefect’s bathroom? She gets help from her equally gifted inventor & mechanic godfather, Drosselmeyer (Morgan Free-man) at a sumptuous party and ballet. He shows her a hidden doorway (like the Narnia closet) to a hidden world of four realms. Here, Clara meets a “nutcracker” soldier named Captain Philip (Jayden Fowora-Knight) who informs her that, not only was her mom a queen there, but that she’s a princess!

After chasing after the ‘mouse king’ (actually several thousand mice who form one giant squirming rodent shape) who has stolen that egg-gift key, Clara is introduced to the regents that preside over three realms. The Sugar Plum Fairy (Keira Knightly) of the Land of Sweets, Shiver (Richard E. Grant), the ruler of the Land of Snowflakes, and Hawthorne (Eugenio Derbez) of the Land of Flowers. The Sugar Plum Fairy tells Clara of the diabolical and wicked Mother Ginger (Helen Mirren) of the mouse-infested Land of Amusement, who has her magical key; something the S. P. F. needs to inject life into ordinary toy tin soldiers.

Well, quicker than you say, “Let’s ride!”, Clara saddles up with a bunch of inept male soldiers, and starts on a journey to battle Mother Ginger & the mice to get that precious key back. But once she reaches the Fourth Realm, she gets a shock when she meets the real Mother Ginger. Yes, it’s all very Disney and the first screenplay by newbie Ashleigh Powell, who must’ve watched the Narnia movies, Alice in Wonderland, and even some Harry Potter for inspiration. Although it’s pro-feminism (and let’s face it, what movie isn’t these days), it doesn’t hammer it over your head like Disney’s new-agey Wrinkle in Time pile of goo did.

Powell sensibly wrote an old fashioned fantasy with emphasis on the wondrous and fantastical without preaching, mixing in a brave and smart young girls adventurers in Narnia -sorry, I mean, Wonderland – SORRY, I mean, the Four Realms! And what a find in Mackenzie Foy! She not only carries the movie, but she never gets on your nerves or acts like a spoiled child. She plays it real, honest, and grounded; something that is refreshing to see in this kind of fantasy movie. Knightly has fun as the S.P. F. as does Freeman (who is more like an extended cameo). Another great find is newbie Fowora-Knight; for only his second movie, shows terrific promise.

You got two directors here: Joe Johnston (Captain America: The First Avenger) and Lasse Hallstrom (My Life As A Dog). So you have both tender moments of family, coupled with dazzling action, plus jaw-dropping eye candy of visual effects that are literally a feast for your senses. And for you ballet enthusiasts out there, they haven’t forgotten about you either. Peppered into the story is the traditional music and some dancing for all you Nutcracker Ballet purests. Although the overall plot steals from many other story lines, it’s kid-friendly, fun, exciting, and worthwhile entertainment.

The 10th Kingdom (2000)

Way before Once Upon A Time, ABC launched an ambitious TV mini-series; a two-hour episode every night for five nights about a couple of ordinary New Yorker’s who stumble into an adventure of a lifetime. AND it was all based on fairy tales, different realms & kingdoms, magic mirrors, and hosted a plethora of star power.

Unbeknownst to any of us, there’s a hidden world of nine magical kingdoms, realms, REAL fairy tales, and magic that lies in a parallel universe beside us. The only way to get there is through a magic mirror (yes, just like the Snow White kind). Anyway, in this hidden world, the Evil Queen (Dianne Weist) plots to rule them all… of course! But, she is trapped in the Fourth Kingdom prison under the rule of spoiled Prince Wendell (Daniel Lapaine), the grandson of Snow White (Camryn Manheim). The Queen enlists the help of the brutal Troll King (Ed O’neill under tons of make-up) and his three bumbling children (Burly, Blabberwort and Bluebell) to release her.

Prince Wendell is captured by the Queen and turned into a dog, but he escapes through a mirror into NYC. Enraged, the Queen releases a half-wolf prisoner called Wolf (Scott Cohen) to track & capture the Prince/dog. Now we meet New Yorkers Virginia Lewis and her oafish father Tony (Kimberly Lewis & John Larroquette) who not only encounter the dog (whom she names “Prince”), but also Wolf, who falls hopelessly in love with Virginia. After learning the truth, they all travel back to the Nine Kingdoms with Wolf to break the Prince’s spell via a magic mirror portal in Central Park.

As you might expect, hijinks galore ensue with Virginia & Tony meeting a whole passel of fairy tale characters and interacting with them with crazy results. The Queen gets wind of what’s happening and sends her trusty Huntsman (Rutger Hauer) to kill them all, as Wolf has switched sides and wants to help them. Finally, through chase after chase, escape after escape, adventure after adventure (remember, this was a 10-hour event!), Virginia eventually meets the ghost of Snow White who reveals she is destined to save the Nine Kingdoms and how to stop the Queen.

In an odd twist, Tony recognizes the Queen as his long lost wife AND Virginia’s mother! WTH?! The final act is the grand showdown and it’s a doozie! The mini-series was a huge hit for ABC and later, once it was heavily edited, a major seller on VHS. Written by Simon Moore (The Quick & The Dead), it was a family-friendly fantasy that foreshadowed Once Upon A Time. The series, having to be dragged out over five nights and two-hours each, certainly lost momentum in the middle as the heroes slowly gained ground to their ultimate goal, but that was to be expected with these mini-series.

However, this particular series had an ace in the hole: the screenplay was well-written, the characters were well-defined and likable, and the production values were high. Kids liked it for the sheer fairy tale nonsense and action and adults liked it for the humor and Larroquette’s sarcasm, which was his calling card. Although the edited VHS version doesn’t give you the scope of ALL the realms and sub-plots, it’s still a fun mini-movie to watch and worth your time.

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