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Clara is a timid teen girl who is searching for her place in life following her mother’s death. It’s also Christmas – a fact that only adds to her sorrow.

“I don’t want to enjoy it,” she tells her father.

Her mom, though, had other ideas, and left her and her siblings several Christmas gifts they are to open on Christmas Eve. Clara’s present is a mysterious-yet-beautiful silver egg. It contains no key, even if it does include a note from her mom.

“Everything you need is inside,” it reads.

But without a key, how is she to open it? Even Clara – who excels in science and mechanics – cannot figure it out. Finally, though, she catches a break upon visiting her godfather’s workshop, which is nestled away in a huge mansion. While exploring the building during a Christmas gift hunt, she crosses over into another world full of talking toy soldiers, snow-filled forests and intelligent mice. She also finds the key, although it is quickly snatched away by a mouse, who disappears into the woods. Clara also discovers that everyone here calls her “Princess” and claims that her mother is the queen.

Can Clara find the key – and perhaps her identity in life, too?

Disney’s The Nutcracker and the Four Realms (PG) opens this weekend, starring Mackenzie Foy (Interstellar) as Clara; Morgan Freeman (Million Dollar Baby) as her godfather, Drosselmeyer; Helen Mirren (The Queen) as Mother Ginger; and newcomer Jayden Fowora-Knight as a soldier named Phillip. It was inspired by E.T.A. Hoffmann’s classic 1816 story The Nutcracker and the Mouse King.

The other world is divided into four realms. Three of those – the Land of Snowflakes, Land of Flowers and Land of Sweets – are governed by regents. Her key is lost in the Fourth Realm, which is led by the evil Mother Ginger. The regents urge Clara to travel there and find her key. They also request that she help protect them from Mother Ginger.

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms has a plot that may sound quirky in print but works well on the big screen. Its simplicity is refreshing in a movie world full of complicated superhero and science fiction films. The movie is entertaining (my 10-year-old son loved it) and also the perfect length (about an hour and a half). Visually, it is a delight. Just as significantly, it contains a handful of positive lessons, some of which are so obvious, they hit you over the head.

Warning: minor/moderate spoilers!

(Scale key: none, minimal, moderate, extreme)


Minimal. We hear discussion about the death of Clara’s mother. The mice in the other world gang up to form a giant creature that looks like a swarm of insects. Clara and her friends enter the Fourth Realm under fog, giving it an eerie feeling. Creepy statues (like something from a theme park) guard the entrance. Clowns protect Mother Ginger, who has a couple of scars on her face. During a battle scene, giant toy soldiers are punched and hit frequently; they fall over easily.


None. An evil female character jokes about the soldiers, “Boys with weapons in uniforms send a quiver through me.”

Coarse Language

Minimal. One coarse word said by Drosselmeyer: d–n (1). Possibly one OMG.

Other Positive Elements

At first, Clara is reluctant to sacrifice her time and energy for the realms but she eventually comes around, displaying selflessness. She and her father have a disagreement early in the film but forgive one another. Clara is skilled at science and mechanics – two subjects that did not draw the attention of many girls in the Victorian era, when the movie takes place.

Life Lessons

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms provides lessons on grief during tragedy, courage, selflessness and leadership. Its most significant lesson, though, involves finding one’s place in life (see below).


The movie’s theme – “everything you need is inside of you” – provides a mixed bag. That statement is true for the Christian, but it’s not for the unbeliever. What the unbeliever needs – Christ – is outside of him.

Yet that’s not the backdrop for The Nutcracker and the Four Realms. The movie presents Clara as someone who wants to be more like her sister and who is struggling to find her place in the world. Clara needs to discover and use her own talents. “You see the world in a unique way,” her mom tells her in a flashback scene, encouraging her to be herself. It’s a conversation I have had with my children when sibling rivalries arise. As I tell each of them: God has gifted you in ways your brother and sister are not gifted. Be yourself!

“Over the course of this story, she learns that it’s OK for her to be different, and in fact, the things that make her different are also what make her special,” Ashleigh Powell, who wrote the screenplay for the movie, told me this week. “And I think that’s just such a great message for not only girls but kids in general.”

As believers, our identity is in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17, 1 Pet. 2:9, Gal. 2:20), but He has gifted each of us uniquely.

(The YouVersion Bible app includes a devotional based on the movie. Search for “Nutcracker” within the app)

What I Liked

The landscapes. The family-centric story. The incorporation of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker Suite within the movie. Yet you don’t have to enjoy ballet to like the film; most of it is not ballet.

What I Didn’t Like

Two of the soldiers are somewhat effeminate, but I’m being picky.

Discussion Questions

  1. What does it mean that “everything you need is inside of you”? Do you agree with that statement?
  2. Why were Clara and her father upset at one another? What led Clara to apologize? What led her father to apologize?
  3. What did Clara learn while in the other world? What did you learn from the movie?

Entertainment rating: 4 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

Rated PG for some mild peril.