Make no mistake, this is not the Nutcracker of your childhood.
In the past couple of weeks trailers for Disney’s The Nutcracker and the Four Realms have flooded every corner of the internet. In the same moment that I marvel at the beauty of the worlds they have created, I cannot help but notice the distinct lack of … a Nutcracker. Yes, there is a prince, but I have yet to see any reason why he is a “Nutcracker” prince. Does he rule over nutty confections in the Land of the Sweets? It does not take long to recognize that all Disney has done is pull characters out of the ballet and insert them into a brand new story, while adding one ballet scene to try to attract dance audiences. I am guessing that this Clara goes to the ballet at the beginning of the film, inspiring her interactions within the four realms later, much in the same way that elements of the Party Scene in the ballet often tie into what Clara “dreams” in subsequent scenes. If not, well they should have.
I appreciate that the film is meant to pay homage to the darker style of E.T.A. Hoffman’s original tale, but they do not tell that story either. In so much as the original ballet was criticized for departing so heavily from the book, at least the ballet shares the same basic premise: romanticizing the love a young girl can have for a childhood toy, namely a Nutcracker. Instead this story revolves around a magical key left to Clara by the late Mrs. Stahlbaum, because Disney cannot resist the chance to kill off every protagonist’s mother. Speaking of mothers, the antagonist in this version is Mother Ginger. I can see how a character usually portrayed in the ballet world by a man in an over sized dress with a brood of misbehaved children might inspire fear, but Mother Ginger appears to have supplanted the Rat King or Queen, and I am rather surprised Disney would turn down the opportunity to give us a CGI rodent with seven heads. Maybe they are keeping that a surprise. After all we still don’t know how Mrs. Stahlbaum dies. Plague perhaps? Oh wait, they already did that.
I know I shouldn’t get so worked up about the liberties Disney has taken with the story, considering I rework my own Nutcracker choreography every season. I am actually rather impressed that they have come up with such an original story in this day and age. It would be preferable if they had let this story be its own entity, with completely new characters. To a certain extent I would even be more accepting if they just renamed the film Clara and the Four Realms. As it is though, I just cannot help but feel a little betrayed as I watch these trailers. I want to be excited by the visual spectacle, and I know both Lasse Hallstrom and Joe Johnston are capable of telling a good story, but the fact remains that this is not The Nutcracker, and plugging in Misty Copeland does not make it a ballet movie. She doesn’t even get to portray one of the iconic roles. She is “The Ballerina” which ostensibly makes her, and the other dancers, part of the scenery. For a company built on making dreams come true, Disney still has a lot to learn about how to handle our beloved childhood stories with the attention and care they deserve.
I will not be seeing this film in the theaters. The fact that it gets an early November release, suggests to me that the higher ups know their attempt to recreate this story is going to fall short. Mary Poppins gets the coveted December release, and The Four Realms has to compete against Fantastic Beasts. Oh, and Disney is releasing Ralph Breaks the Internet Thanksgiving weekend, so what does that tell you. No I will wait until the film lands on one of the streaming services, which means I probably won’t watch it until spring when Nutcracker season is long gone. Come November, when I am not revisiting the Wizarding World, I’ll be rocking out to Bohemian Rhapsody (even if their trailer fails to sync up the sound of the crowd clapping to the visual). You may still choose to start off your holiday season with this film, which is your prerogative. I just recommend leaving your childhood memories at home when you go.