In 1816, E.T.A. Hoffmann, a German author, wrote a children's story in which a nutcracker, a young girl's favorite Christmas toy, comes alive. The nutcracker defeats an evil Mouse King in battle and whisks Marie Stahlbaum to a magical kingdom populated by dolls. In 1892, the Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and choreographers Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov turned an adaptation of Hoffmann's story by Alexandre Dumas into the much-loved and often-performed ballet "The Nutcracker."
This year, Walt Disney Pictures released the sumptuous live-action film The Nutcracker and the Four Realms using the Hoffmann story as a starting point. It begins at a holiday party, where a Mr. Stahlbaum gives his youngest daughter, Clara, a locked, handcrafted, egg-shaped box and a note from her deceased mother, Marie. The box is locked. That night, at her godfather Drosselmeyer's Christmas ball, Clara follows a string supposedly leading to Drosselmeyer's gift, but it takes her instead to a parallel world in which the key to her mother's box hangs from a tree. A mouse snatches it before she can reach it and races across a frozen lake. Guarding the lake is a soldier named Phillip, who tells Clara that she is the daughter of Queen Marie Stahlbaum. He leads her to a palace where she learns through a ballet performance about the land she has entered and her mother's role, which she is expected to assume.