The Nutcracker and the Four Realms: Appreciating “Old” Truths in a New-Centered World

I generally don’t read movie reviews, especially in the comment sections of websites. My straightforward principle is that the people who generally write those are the same people who think the McRib is a good idea, and, well, let’s just say I question their judgment. But sometimes when I am going to take my kids to see a movie I haven’t seen, I do want some information of what I’m getting into in case there are some awkward conversations that will ensue.

So recently I found myself online checking out reviews for The Nutcracker and the Four Realms. I thought the preview looked interesting, and it had certainly captured the attention of my children, especially my 12-year-old daughter. I was astonished, therefore, to see the incredibly low ratings for the movie. Imagining it must be some scenario where the producers had introduced subversive themes into a children’s film, drawing the ire of Christian audiences, I thought I had better investigate. What I found was a myriad of negative reviews as to the mundane storyline of the movie.

Now, I am going to keep this post short and I’m not going to review the whole movie. It was fun, my kids and I enjoyed it, and I didn’t regret spending our money. There’s my short review of the movie. What I want to address briefly, however, is the overwhelmingly common criticism I read about the story itself. Many panned the movie for lackluster acting. Others panned the movie as a mere mish-mash of previous fairy tales that had been pieced together into this movie. But the most common criticism I saw was that the movie was boring and predictable.

As I think about these criticisms, it struck me that this is very much the kind of answer we ought to expect in a post-modern world. There is no beautiful story worth re-telling; all that matters is “progress,” innovation, newness. New is good because new is progress. Old, and anything that gives a nod to the old by re-telling or re-fashioning the old, is considered inferior. As I watched The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, what I saw was the wonder of Alice, the Grandmother’s string in The Princess and the Goblin, and elements of many other old stories. What to many viewers was a mish-mash of old stories was to me a purposeful re-contextualization of that which is true, good, and beautiful. I also saw a movie with themes of sacrificial love and the various responses of grief in the face of loss. I saw a movie that took seriously the pain of losing one we love, yet sent a message that moving forward does not mean forgetting the past. I saw a movie where appearances are deceiving, and what’s on the inside isn’t always so easy to discern by what’s on the outside. In short, what I saw was a movie that was worth seeing, one that took seriously its place in a larger narrative told by its genre, and a movie which, although having its flaws, can reawaken a child’s (or adult’s) imagination by confronting them in a new way with an old truth.

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