Looking at the missteps of ‘THE NUTCRACKER AND THE FOUR REALMS’ through its music


Connor Bynum // Film Critic

While not officially our review for the new Disney holiday film THE NUTCRACKER AND THE FOUR REALMS (read that here), this article will go into how the latest adaptation of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s similarly titled holiday ballet handles its source material – primarily the music.

Eight-time Oscar-nominated composer James Newton Howard is credited for the music of the film; however, this score is certainly not his most original work. But as in the similar case of Clint Mansell’s work in BLACK SWAN, Tchaikovsky’s original work is clearly doing the heavy lifting.

Yet where BLACK SWAN succeeded, THE FOUR REALMS wildly misses its mark. Both films heavily feature the iconic melodies from both ballets, but BLACK SWAN (at least, loosely) follows the story structure of SWAN LAKE. THE FOUR REALMS starts off with outstanding promise, featuring numerous tunes we’ve all heard thousands of times as well as following the general story for THE NUTCRACKER.

Misty Copeland is the Ballerina Princess in Disney’s ‘THE NUTCRACKER AND THE FOUR REALMS.’

But as soon as the film begins its second half, one couldn’t be blamed for getting the feeling that they walked back into the wrong show after the intermission. The film practically forgets its influences and goes all over the map. Once Clara (Mackenzie Foy) has entered the magical world of the Four Realms, the film attempts to shoehorn in bland action sequences, laughably bad computer-generated effects, and a storyline about a war between the realms with no clear reason for why the realms are at war in the first place.

Interestingly enough, it’s at the point in the film where the story goes off the rails when James Newton Howard’s score starts to do more of its own thing. His score is by no means poorly written, but it’s no coincidence that these two shifts occur simultaneously. But why did THE FOUR REALMS fail where BLACK SWAN succeeded?

It could perhaps be that SWAN LAKE has an interesting story to tell while THE NUTCRACKER is little more than a whimsical Christmas-themed exercise in extravagance. This adaptation could have been far more entertaining had the film featured more of what made THE NUTCRACKER successful: ballet. There is an extended dancing sequence near the middle of the film and it’s simply delightful. Why this method is never used again until the credits is simply baffling.

So, what can be taken away from all this?

The ballet gets away with featuring style over substance, but the same can’t be said for this bland adaptation. Just because THE NUTCRACKER is an enjoyable ballet does not mean it has the ingredients for an enjoyable film. It’s as if the folks at Disney knew this, but decided to do it anyway. Tchaikovsky notoriously hated his own work in his seminal ballet. He’d probably hate this film even more.

THE NUTCRACKER AND THE FOUR REALMS opens nationwide today.

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.