Fixing the Story: The Nutcracker and the Four Realms

In this new series, I’m doing something a little different than my usual reviews. Rather than just talking about the good and bad in a story, I’ll be going a step further to present possible ways to fix a story that’s lacking. My goal? To help us practise how to pinpoint issues in a story and problem-solve them, a skill that we can use with our own stories!

Synopsis

Young Clara needs a magical, one-of-a-kind key to unlock a box that contains a priceless gift. A golden thread leads her to the coveted key, but it soon disappears into a strange and mysterious parallel world. In that world, she meets a soldier named Phillip, a group of mice and the regents who preside over three realms. Clara and Phillip must now enter a fourth realm to retrieve the key and restore harmony to the unstable land.

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms synopsis

The Problem

With a 32% Rotten Tomatoes score and consistent 1-3 out of 5 star reviews across the board, it’s obvious from a single glance that audiences and critics alike were dissatisfied with Nutcracker. Reviews claim it’s “forgettable,” that it was “made for the pretty visuals,” and “looking at the cast list was the best part” (ouch).

Or, here’s a great summary:

“It was certainly…a movie.”

My husband

I challenge you to look at some of these reviews and see if you can guess what the movie’s main problem is. It’s obvious that the audience didn’t connect with the film. Something was missing.

Got it yet? When you watch Nutcracker, it’s very obvious that it doesn’t have a consistent, clear theme. Remember: theme is one of the ten basic storytelling elements we’ve been talking about! Without a good theme, you get reviews that suggest a forgettable, out-of-touch story.

Part of the problem is that the main character, Clara, faces two big problems in the movie that have no correlation with one another: 1) reconciling with her father and 2) saving the Four Realms. In the end, Clara saves the Four Realms. There’s sort of a message about believing in yourself, even though Clara hasn’t actually shown self-doubt, only said it out loud, which directly contradicts her confident actions. The writer tried to engineer a theme that didn’t actually work for the plot or the character and just shoved it into the story. (Please never, ever, do that.)

To top it all off, when Clara goes back to the “real world,” she magically just connects with her dad, and he connects with her…even though they haven’t seen each other for most of the movie? Clara brought him up once, maybe twice when she was in the Four Realms? Nothing she did in the Four Realms helped her take steps towards understanding her father. And since on the father’s side, Clara’s only been gone for maybe an hour or so (since time is different in the Four Realms), it makes even less sense for him to suddenly understand and reconcile with her when she gets back.

And yet, the movie makes it out like this relationship is really important, despite it only taking up maybe 10 minutes of the whole film. The final scene makes you feel like you should be satisfied, but you’re really not.

Because the writer didn’t know what the theme of the movie was. Therefore, there’s nothing to tie the story together, no significant truth or message that the audience remembers. No real journey or climax for the main character, even.

I have some other issues with the film – namely why it’s associated with The Nutcracker when the main plot has nothing to do with Christmas and only sometimes loosely uses elements from the original story – but the theme is definitely the biggest problem that needs fixing.

So, the Solution?

When Clara first enters the Four Realms, she meets a “nutcracker” guide who accompanies her on her travels. He’s cute and they have chemistry, but nothing really comes of their relationship in the end.

So, instead, Clara’s father should have followed her into the Four Realms and gone on the journey with her.

This would focus the theme into learning to understand loved ones better through hardship, harrowing circumstances, and adventure. Clara and her father would have to cooperate to try and save the Four Realms and, in the process, work together to deal with their grief over losing Clara’s mother. There still could have been an underlying theme of self-confidence as well, but it would have made more sense this way: showing Clara’s father believing in her and how that gives Clara the confidence she needs to save the day.

In the end, they both would have gone on their own individual journey while developing their relationship at the same time. Clara would have been able to see just how much her father loved her if he, say, fought the Mouse King to protect her even though he has no idea how to use a sword. The movie would have had a much bigger emotional impact this way and would have made more sense overall. This wouldn’t change the plot of the movie much, either; it would just involve taking elements that were already in the story and making them more cohesive, bridging the painfully obvious gap between the “real world” part of the story and the “Four Realms” part.

What do you think? How would you have fixed this movie? Let me know in the comments!

Happy writing!
-E.J.

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When you write as much as I do, you have to take frequent breaks from sitting. A standing desk (not a whole desk, but a mini desk that will sit on top of my current desk with my laptop, keyboard, and mouse and extend upward) will allow me to continue working while maintaining that good blood flow to my brain. Thank you so much for your support that allows me to keep producing free content. God bless you! ♥️ E.J.

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