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Film / The Nutcracker and the Four Realms

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"The time has come."
"It's Christmas Eve. A time of mystery, expectations... who knows what might happen?"

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is a Walt Disney Pictures fantasy film and a live-action adaptation of E. T. A. Hoffmann's novella The Nutcracker and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's eponymous ballet as originally staged by Marius Petipa. It is directed by Lasse Hallström and written by Ashleigh Powell, with reshoots handled by Joe Johnston. It stars Mackenzie Foy, Morgan Freeman, Keira Knightley, Helen Mirren, Jayden Fowora-Knight, and Richard E. Grant. Dancers such as Misty Copeland of the American Ballet Theatre perform the dance numbers.

All the young Clara (Foy) wants is a key – a one-of-a-kind key that will unlock a box that holds a priceless gift from her late mother. A golden thread, presented to her at godfather Drosselmeyer's (Freeman) annual holiday party, leads her to the coveted key—which promptly disappears into a strange and mysterious parallel world. It's there that Clara encounters a soldier named Phillip (Fowora-Knight), a gang of mice and the regents who preside over three Realms: Land of Snowflakes, Land of Flowers and Land of Sweets. Clara and Phillip must brave the ominous Fourth Realm, home to the tyrant Mother Ginger (Mirren), to retrieve Clara's key and hopefully return harmony to the unstable world.


Previews: Trailer 1, Trailer 2.

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms contains examples of:

  • Action Girl: Clara and Mother Ginger are quite tough fighters in the final battle.
  • Adaptational Heroism:
    • The mice and Mother Ginger once it's revealed that the latter was framed.
    • Fritz does not fight with Clara over the nutcracker toy and damage it.
  • Adaptational Nationality: Where the original novella takes place in Germany and was published in 1816, and the ballet version takes place in Russia, this version's "real world" scenes are set in Victorian London. Oddly, no character names are changed to reflect this; the family is still named Stahlbaum.
  • Adaptational Villainy:
    • Mother Ginger is a cheery woman with many children in the ballet, while here she's a tyrant and the main villain. She's a sort of Composite Character, with the role of the Mouse Queen of the novella merged in hers, and on top of that it's subverted as she's Good All Along.
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    • Played straight with the actual villain — The Sugar Plum Fairy!
  • Adapted Out: A lot — the Mouse Queen and almost everyone related to the backstory of Princess Pirlipat are eliminated.
  • Alas, Poor Villain: In the end, the actual Big Bad Sugar Plum was turned back into a lifeless porcelain doll as punishment for the crimes of attempted takeover of the Four Realms and treason against Clara and the other regents. Despite this, Clara briefly mourns for the loss of villainous Sugar Plum, who wasn't only one of mother's favorite toys, but also a friend who felt hurt by her mother's supposed abandonment.
  • All There in the Manual: Additional Backstory appears in the Novelization The Secret of the Realms.
  • Amusement Park of Doom: The Fourth Realm was the Land of Amusements.
  • And Starring: As seen above on the poster, Helen Mirren gets the With credit and Morgan Freeman the And credit.
  • Award-Bait Song: "Fall on Me" is performed by Andrea Bocelli (who's had experience with this trope going back 20 years to Quest for Camelot's "The Prayer") and his son Matteo.
  • Ballet: This is used to present the Backstory of the Magical Land to Clara, with Misty Copeland appearing as the lead dancer. Another such sequence is part of the Creative Closing Credits.
  • Beauty, Brains, and Brawn: Between the main female characters of this movie:
    • Sugar Plum (Beauty) - Bubbly, feminine and regent of the Land of Sweets.
    • Clara (Brains) - Strategic, scientifically skilled, book smart, and uses her wits.
    • Mother Ginger (Brawn) - Tough heroic rebel who carries around a whip.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: The intact three realms and their people are amazingly lovely, especially compared to the Amusement Park of Doom that is the Fourth Realm, ruled over by the now-broken traitor Mother Ginger. Ultimately subverted, verging on Beauty Is Bad, in the case of the actual villain Sugar Plum, who brags to Clara that she is far more beautiful — nay, perfect — than she is, while Mother Ginger is a good, brave woman framed.
  • Behind the Black: After Phillip and Clara's first encounter, he turns to his horse Jingles, who was apparently standing there just off-screen the whole time. Yet Clara had paid no attention to Jingles up to that point, despite the fact that given the direction she approached from and the way the guard booth was facing, the horse should have been the first thing she noticed.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Sugar Plum. She acts all jittery and sweet and her hair is made out of cotton candy, but deep down, her heart is purely sour.
  • Broken Pedestal: Mother Ginger was once a good regent, but then came the destruction of the Fourth Realm, all because she was framed by Sugar Plum, who in turn becomes a serious case of this for Clara and everyone else while Mother Ginger gets her pedestal rebuilt.
  • Canon Foreigner: Hawthorne is the only one of the four regents who doesn't have a corresponding character in the ballet.
  • Cassandra Truth: Nobody believed Mother Ginger until it was too late to stop the Sugar Plum Fairy from taking control of the Engine and creating her army.
  • Casting Gag: In the last adaptation of The Nutcracker, Richard E. Grant played the heroine's father. Here he's been cast as Shiver, Regent of the Land of Snowflakes.
  • The Cavalry: In the climax, Clara gets extra help fighting the Big Bad when Mother Ginger enters the fray.
  • Circus of Fear: The skirt of Mother Ginger's Humongous Mecha doubles as a circus tent full of her minions.
  • Clock Punk: The core aesthetic of the Four Realms, which turn out to be located within a clock.
  • Composite Character: Mother Ginger is her ballet counterpart combined with the Mouse Queen of the novella. The mice, who together form the Mouse King, are among her many minions (and in a way are a "composite character" of their own).
  • Cool Key: The key that's coveted by Clara. Beyond opening that box and revealing "Everything that you need", it's capable of activating The Engine, the machine her mother created from which the very existence of the Four Realms came. It can produce living toy soldiers, an army of which could decide the fate of the war depending upon who controls it, which is why others covet it as well.
  • Creepy Good: The clowns and the mice look straight out of a horror movie, and scare Clara and Phillip quite a bit, but they're ultimately good people.
  • Creative Closing Credits: The ballet dancers perform another number during them.
  • Dark Reprise: There's a dark reprise of "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" in the second half of the first trailer.
  • Death by Adaptation: Clara's mother, although a minor character, is alive and well in all other versions of the story.
  • Decomposite Character: Clara and her mother, Marie. Marie was the main character's name in the original novella, whereas Clara is her name in the ballet. Marie's brother and sister in the novella are transferred to Clara in this movie. They both share a godfather (Drosselmeyer) and in this version become queen at the end of their respective stories, though in Clara's case, it's because she inherited the title from her mother instead of the land bestowing it upon her like they did Marie.
  • Did I Mention It's Christmas?: Christmas Eve only affects the story in that Clara receives the box as her recently deceased mother's final present to her, and from there is led to the key at Drosselmeyer's party that evening.
  • Evil All Along: At the end of Act Two, Sugar Plum (as well as the deleted character Dew Drop), are revealed to be this, having framed Mother Ginger and her minions for all of the destruction that's happened so far. Sugar Plum intends to become queen.
  • Eyepatch of Power: As in most adaptations, Drosselmeyer has an eyepatch.
  • Family Versus Career: It turns out that Clara's mother had to deal with this. She had to split her time between being Queen of the Realms and raising a family in the real world.
  • Fatal Flaw: Clara's is her self-pity. She is only concerned with how much she misses her late mother, dismissing her father's feelings for wanting to keep up public appearances. In her quest, Clara is quick to run into danger for the mysterious key to learn its significance to Marie, putting her companions at risk.
  • Fisher Kingdom: The novelization says The Realms are a mild example, having flowers spring up under Marie's feet when she's happy and it will rain when she's sad.
  • Foil: Clara and the Sugar Plum Fairy. Both are consumed with grief over the loss of Marie, and each are her "creations" in different ways. But where Clara learns to not close herself off and try to understand other people's feelings, Sugar wants to conquer the Four Realms in what amounts to a giant tantrum.
  • Four Is Death: The Fourth Realm is the devastated domain of Big Bad Mother Ginger.
  • French Jerk: The Sugar Plum Fairy is an evil person who wants world domination. When Mother Ginger tries to reason with Sugar Plum, she rejects Ginger and tries to turn her into a toy anyways. Plus she betrays Clara and says that Marie "abandoned" her, which is a straight-up lie.
  • Gadgeteer Genius: Clara wants to become this, Drosselmeyer is this, and Marie was this — in a BIG way.
  • Gender Flip: Shiver is a gender-flipped equivalent to the Snow Queen of the ballet, though it should be noted that some productions do add a Snow King alongside her.
  • Giant Woman: Mother Ginger's mechanical is a puppet-like one.
  • God Save Us from the Queen!: The Magical Land was once ruled by The High Queen, Marie, Clara's mum, but after her death Mother Ginger decided she wanted to take the crown. The result of this was the Land of Amusements' destruction, but she's still out there. Then it's revealed it was Sugar Plum Fairy who wanted to conquer all the realms. Mother Ginger was framed.
  • Good All Along: Among the many minions of Mother Ginger, all of them turn out to be this when she turns out to be this as well because Sugar Plum was Evil All Along.
  • Gorgeous Period Dress: Plenty of them. Quite expected with yet another live action adaptation of a Fairy Tale by Disney, after Alice in Wonderland, Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast.
  • Graceful Ladies Like Purple: The Sugar Plum Fairy's beautiful gown is purple.
  • Gratuitous Princess: The film adds a 'princess' subplot not originally in the Nutcracker story. Clara is the princess of the Four Realms because her mother was its queen before she divided her power between the regents and left for good. The evil Sugar Plum regards herself as the true princess and wants to destroy Clara as part of taking over as queen. In the end, Sugar Plum is turned back into a doll, Phillip is installed as her replacement as regent, and Clara chooses not to become queen.
  • Grimmification: Somewhat in terms of plot structure of the ballet instead of Clara and Phillip helping defeat the Mouse King in a simple battle between mice and toy soldiers 'neath the Christmas tree, they're saving a Magical Land from a Sugar Apocalypse caused by a major case of Adaptational Villainy. However compared to Hoffmann's original story most of his darker elments are still removed. There's no battle to leave the mouse king bathed in his own blood, there's no candy people being eaten alive and left for dead and most assuredly your Disney movie did not feature people breaking their jaws trying to chew a nut.
  • Guile Hero: Clara defeats the Big Bad by reprogramming the machine so it will fire on the position of the person activating it. She tries reasoning with Sugar Plum, but if that fails - and it does - she knows Sugar Plum will press the button and defeat herself.
  • The Hero's Journey: Clara undertaking this to save the Four Realms is the core of the story.
  • The High Queen: Marie, Clara's mother, once ruled the land. Without her, there is now discord among the regents, with Mother Ginger pitted against the other three.
  • Humongous Mecha: A giant replica of Mother Ginger, whose skirt conceals a Circus of Fear, must be braved by our heroes.
  • I've Heard of That — What Is It?: When Clara explains that the reason she was in the kingdom was because she was looking for her Christmas present, Hawthorne exclaims, "I love Christmas!" Then he asks, "What's Christmas?"
  • An Ice Person: Shiver, the Regent of the Land of Snowflakes.
  • If I Can't Have You…: Ties into the Big Bad's motivation. Sugar Plum was unable to accept that Marie loved her family, and especially daughter Clara, more than her world and especially her first creation, so Sugar decided she would conquer all the realms and have revenge upon Clara in the bargain.
  • In Name Only: As an adaptation of both the novella and ballet, very little is retained from either version's actual plots beyond a Christmas party setting up a journey to a Magical Land. While many characters appear from both versions, their roles in this story are significantly different.
  • I Taste Delicious: Sugar Plum occasionally munches on her own cotton candy hair!
  • It Was with You All Along: In the late going, Clara realizes that "Everything you need is inside" has a double meaning. The egg is actually a music box with a mirror, literally showing her that everything she needs (courage, skill, etc.) is inside HER. She later applies this to the remaining regents, explaining how they can rule the Four Realms on their own while she returns to the outside world.
  • Jump Scare: When the Matryoshka clown appears in front of Clara's face out of nowhere.
  • Keystone Army: The soldiers all stop moving when the villain Sugar Plum is defeated.
  • Lamarck Was Right: Turns out Clara inherited her mother's gift for mechanical engineering (as well as the throne of the Four Realms).
  • Last-Second Chance: At the climax, Clara tries one last time to reason with the villainous Sugar Plum. It doesn't work, but Clara planned for that, rigging The Engine to turn Sugar Plum back into a toy if she activated it again.
  • Living Toys: The Magical Land's key residents are all toys that were transformed into living beings. Note Mother Ginger's cracked skin.
  • Locked Out of the Loop: Clara was told stories of a Magical Land by her mother, but not that it's real, much less that her mother created it and its people and was its original ruler. In fact, Marie and her husband did intend to reveal all one day but her deathly illness prevented it.
  • Magical Land: The film's primary setting.
  • Meta Origin: In the original book while the Nutcracker becoming a toy is fully explained in the back story exactly why Clara and Fritz's toys come alive and how the land of dolls came to be are never explained. In this movie all the Magical Land characters are all explained to be toys brought to life by Marie's invention.
  • Missing Mom: Clara's mother, Marie, passed away from a terminal illness before the action begins.
  • Monster Clown: Clara and Phillip encounter evil Harlequins in the employ of Mother Ginger. Subverted because they were Good All Along.
  • Mythology Gag:
    • There's a silhouetted orchestra and conductor providing the music for the Backstory Ballet, as seen in Fantasia, which featured a segment based on "The Nutcracker Suite".
    • Marie is the name of the heroine of The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, but Clara is the name of the ballet's heroine. In this adaptation, Clara's mother is named Marie to split the difference.
    • The Mouse King is a multi-headed mouse in the novella and ballet. In this version, it's not a single organism, but the result of hundreds of mice working together as one, closer to the traditional myth where a Rat King is a hive mind of several mice with their tails tied in a ball.
    • The leader of these mice — it steals the key from Clara — is named Mouserinks, the given name of the Mouse Queen in the novella (Madam Mouserinks).
    • Mother Ginger's Humongous Mecha counterpart having a Circus of Fear beneath its skirt is a dark version of the traditional Petipa staging of her scene in the ballet, in which her children emerge from beneath her comically oversized skirt.
    • Drosselmeyer is often, if not traditionally, associated with owls in stagings of the ballet. Here, he has one as a pet.
    • Phillip's last name (Hoffman) is a reference to the author of The Nutcracker and the Mouse King.
  • Named by the Adaptation: The Nutcracker's name is Phillip Hoffman in this version.
  • Nice Mice: Subverted with Mother Ginger's furry minions, who in the end turn out to be a double subversion, just like their mistress.
  • No Ontological Inertia: Reverting the Big Bad is enough to deactivate all the tin soldiers, as they were bound to her will.
  • Nostalgic Music Box: Clara finds one in that it's what the egg-shaped box she finally manages to open actually is. The nostalgia comes from it being Marie's final gift to her, serving as a reminder to her daughter that everything she needs is inside and the song it plays being meaningful to her father/Marie's husband.
  • The Noun and the Noun: The title. It doesn't quite count as Character Name and the Noun Phrase because the nutcracker's proper name isn't used.
  • Novelization: The "extended novelization" The Secret of the Realms, published in September 2018, is so called because it goes into more detail on the Backstory and specifically Clara's mother Marie.
  • One Bad Mother: Mother Ginger's name and role fit the bill. However, she turns out to be a subvertion, as she really was Good All Along.
  • 1-Dimensional Thinking: An egregious version. The villainous Sugar Plum Fairy is not restrained whatsoever, absolutely knows what's going to happen when the machine fires, and could literally take two steps in any direction OR take flight, but instead of moving out of the path of the machine, doomed Sugar Plum just stands there and screams. Too Dumb to Live indeed.
  • The Owl-Knowing One: Wise old Drosselmeyer has an owl as a pet for this reason and Mythology Gag.
  • Plant Person: Hawthorne, who has authority over the Land of Flowers.
  • Plot Coupon: The key that can open the box and activate The Engine.
  • Pre-Mortem One-Liner: Before the Engine fires upon the Sugar Plum Fairy, Clara says in a Meaningful Echo, "You were right, Sugar Plum: I am every inch my mother's daughter."
  • Promoted to Love Interest: Inverted. Unlike in the novella and ballet, there is no romance between Clara and Phillip.
  • Real Women Don't Wear Dresses: Clara isn't especially tomboyish, but she prefers studying science to attending parties, and isn't good at hair or fashion. Additionally, the hyper-feminine Sugar Plum is the selfish bad guy and the tough, pants-wearing Mother Ginger is secretly good.
  • The Reveal: It's the top of the third act, the battle against Mother Ginger is about to commence, and then Clara learns too late that Sugar Plum is the real threat.
  • Rewatch Bonus: Everything learned about Sugar Plum is cast in a new light now that the viewers know her true intentions from the start.
  • Rube Goldberg Device: Clara is working on one of these as the film opens, establishing her Gadgeteer Genius bonafides. Amusingly, she's playing a game of Mouse Trap
  • Scenery Porn: Goes along with Gorgeous Period Dress. Narnia-esque snow covered fir forest, red castle with waterfalls, gilding everywhere... You name it.
  • Secondary Character Title: Clara is very much the protagonist, so the title counts as this.
  • Secret Legacy: Clara has this. She's the princess of the Four Realms, being the daughter of their creator Marie.
  • Sequel Hook: In the denouement, Clara leaves the regents in charge but promises to visit the Four Realms again.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: Her face still looks cracked, but Mother Ginger looks absolutely beautiful when she's all dressed up for Clara's coronation.
  • Shout-Out: The Yellow Brick Road can be seen in the background in The Land of Sweets.
  • Show Within a Show: The Backstory Ballet.
  • Sidekick: Sugar Plum had one, the tiny sprite Dew Drop, in the original script, but while the character had voicework recorded by Miranda Hart, she does not appear in the finished film.
  • Sliding Scale of Living Toys: The residents of the Four Realms are at the "Real and Living to Everyone" level.
  • Spiritual Successor: Disney's pretty much picking up where Alice in Wonderland (2010) and its sequel left off with this film — turning a light fantasy about a young girl in a Magical Land into The Hero's Journey with much higher stakes, with a similar whimsical/gothic visual aesthetic.
  • Standard Snippet: It's based on The Nutcracker so "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" naturally has to show up. The trailers' music is nothing but that, twice for the first trailer alone (one classic reprise, and one Dark Reprise).
  • Succession Crisis: With The High Queen of the Four Realms dead, Mother Ginger has turned against the other regents in hope of becoming the new queen. Only the true inheritor of the throne can save the day. In the end, Clara decides that she will return to London while the four regents — Mother Ginger (who is innocent), Phillip (who replaces Sugar Plum), Shiver, and Hawthorne — will rule together and equally.
  • Sugar Apocalypse: The Fourth Realm underwent this, and Clara must now stop it from happening to the other three. Bonus points for being a Sugar Plum Fairy Apocalypse.
  • Theme Naming: Hawthorne (referring to a type of flowering tree/shrub) is the Regent of the Land of Flowers, and Shiver is a cool name for the Regent of the Land of Snowflakes.
  • Those Two Guys: Harlequin and Cavalier.
  • Tomboy and Girly Girl:
    • Mother Ginger and Sugar Plum. Mother Ginger is scarcely seen in anything but a masculine-looking outfit and is a Gadgeteer Genius and a heroic rebel who doesn't dress up until Clara's coronation after the climax, while Sugar Plum is sweet and hyper-feminine to the point of being practically pink all over—even her voice is higher than her actress's natural voice.
    • Clara and Louise. Clara is a Gadgeteer Genius who turns out to be a badass princess and spends a huge portion of the movie in military dress, while Louise is a Proper Lady who concerns herself with propriety and not just her own looks but also Clara's.
  • Town Girls: The three main female characters of this movie: Sugar Plum is the hyper-feminine, bubbly and high-pitch voiced regent of the Land of Sweets (femme), Mother Ginger is the regent of the fallen Land of Amusement, has a masculine-looking outfit and is a tough heroic rebel who carries around a whip (butch) and the protagonist Clara is the brainy, strategic, scientifically skilled and book smart leader of the Four Realms (neither).
  • Transformation Ray: The inhabitants of the Four Realms were once toys, but they were transformed into living beings via this. It can also reverse the process, but much to Sugar Plum's dismay, she's the one it zaps rather than her target, Mother Ginger.
  • Victorian London: Clara and her family live here.
  • Walking Spoiler: Turns out to be two of them: Mother Ginger and Sugar Plum.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: After Clara and Phillip make it out of the Fourth Realm with the key, the rest of the troops who accompanied them, many of whom were last seen being sucked into the ground, are never mentioned again (apart from the two comic-relief guards, who reappear just before Clara returns home, with no explanation of how they escaped).
  • Whip It Good: Mother Ginger is quite skilled at using a whip in battle.
  • Winged Humanoid: Sugar Plum, although she keeps her fairy wings retracted most of the time.
  • Winter Royal Lady: Shiver, as the Regent of the Land of Snowflakes, is a gender-flipped version.
  • The Worm That Walks: The mice combine to make a large humanoid mouse.
  • The X of Y: The names of the intact realms: The Land of Sweets, the Land of Flowers, etc.
    • The novelization is titled The Secret of the Realms.
    • A picture book tie-in has the title The Dance of the Realms.
  • Year Inside, Hour Outside: The primary action takes place over the course of a few hours in the real world, but longer in the Magical Land, ala Alice in Wonderland (2010).
  • Your Magic's No Good Here: The novelization says Marie's inventions such as the machine that brings toys to life wouldn't work on Earth and that The Realms' citizens would probably turn back into toys. At the end of the novelization, Clara intends to work on a way for them to be able to visit.
  • Zerg Rush: Mother Ginger's giant mecha is taken down by the tin soldiers all climbing the skirts.

"You are the only one who can stop her."