Disney and the film’s directors are staying quiet about how exactly The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is connected to The Nutcracker ballet. The people behind-the-scenes have admitted that they were inspired by E.T.A. Hoffmann’s original short story and the ballet itself, calling the film a “dark” take on the Nutcracker tale, but that’s about it. So what kind of movie are you watching if you go see this? Whether directors Lasse Hallström and Joe Johnston were aware of it or not, Nutcracker and the Four Realms scans as a straight-up sequel to the original story.
Mild spoilers for The Nutcracker and the Four Realms ahead.
In most English-language versions of the Nutcracker story, the primary protagonist is named Marie or Clara. Clara (Mackenzie Foy) is our young protagonist in the movie, but her mother’s name is Marie. Like in all of the classic Disney movies, Clara’s mother is dead. She was killed in order to make the heroine complex because kids aren’t nuanced without tragedy. Marie was the one who created the Four Realms when she was a girl through some tricky bit of magical engineering that is ruined by a bad CGI laser.
Clara’s godfather, Drosselmeyer, raised her orphaned mother up. In the short story and ballet, Drosselmeyer is the instigator in shrinking Clara/Marie and bringing the toys to life. He’s still a toymaker in the film and he knows about the realms that Marie used to spend so much time in, so there’s no doubt that he was involved when they first came into being.
Sugar Plum (Keira Knightley) explains to Clara that Marie was the first Queen of the Realms. She was BFFs with her mother along with the other regents. In the ballet, the world is more or less in harmony until they face the Rat King. Nutcracker and the Four Realms doesn’t specify if there was a mouse-battle before Clara comes into the realms, but surely there’s some kind of conflict when you bring all of these toys to life for the first time.
When Clara gets to the Four Realms, everything seems off. The Nutcracker soldier (Jayden Fowora-Knight) has been frozen in sleep for years, which seems weird because he is technically alive. Mother Ginger has joined up with the Mouse King and is at war with the Land of Sweets, Land of Flowers and Land of Snowflakes. That certainly wasn’t a conflict in the ballet.
Sugar Plum takes Marie’s daughter under her wing—literally—until she’s gotten what she wants from Clara. After Sugar Plum gets the ability to mass-produce soldiers, she tosses her aside. The Regent of the Land of the Sweets is on a power trip because she felt abandoned by the now-deceased Marie. That’s the definition of a temper tantrum. Sugar Plum has all of this baggage from another story viewers didn’t get to see, so surely that means the original Nutcracker took place before now. We’re just watching the chaos that erupted when the creator of this magical world left it behind.
The only hole in this theory is that Fritz, Clara’s younger brother, is a character in the Nutcracker and the Four Realms. He doesn’t go on this adventure with Clara as he does in E.T.A. Hoffmann’s story. Instead, he makes a ton of comments about how badly he wants to dance at the ball and plays with his toy soldiers. This might have just been a nod to appease Nutcracker ballet fans who are wondering why their favorite ballet has turned into an action movie that’s also simultaneously trying to be Alice in Wonderland. The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is quite a rabbit hole to go down.
The film is out in wide-release now.