There were things I really enjoyed about the movie: the breathtaking animation, over-the-top costumes, creative makeup, beautiful soundtrack, and elegant ballet scenes.
I also appreciated that there were people of color starring leading roles: Morgan Freeman as Drosselmeyer, and Jayden Fowora-Knight as Phillip.
Furthermore, I liked that there were a lot of leading female roles. But I was distracted by and struggled with the movie’s usage of the female form and identity. Once it was revealed that Sugar Plum was the true antagonist, she immediately began making sexual comments about her (male) soldiers, and making weird sexual faces and noises. I felt that this was completely unnecessary. By sexualizing her immediately after it is revealed that she’s evil, the movie relates female sexuality to being ‘bad.’ I think this as a rhetorical strategy ‘makes sense’ because women are generally expected to be ‘asexual,’ unless it is to please her male partner. In this context, a woman who is sexual without a partner is seen as deviant and therefore unacceptable or ‘bad.’
Unfortunately, the sexualized female villain is a common character trope. Think of Rita Repulsa from the movie Power Rangers (2017), Ahmanet from the movie The Mummy (2017), mystique from the X-Men movies (~2003-2017), and the list goes on.
I was also somewhat disturbed by Mother Ginger’s robot, which was a three-story tall woman in an enormous hoop skirt. In one of the final battle scenes, Sugar Plum’s male soldiers crawled up and all over Mother Ginger’s robot. The assault on the female body (especially by numerous male bodies) was very disturbing to me. I did not understand why Mother Ginger’s robot needed to be in the form of a woman.
As I was looking up images of Mother Ginger, I realized that she is traditionally shown in a giant hoop skirt, from which eight Polichinelle children emerge. For this reason, I think it is fitting that she is referred to as “mother.” I could not find any explanations of Mother Ginger’s traditional attire or characterization which I think would be helpful to understand her character in the movie.
Aside from troublesome representations of the female form, I was also disappointed by some cliche moments in the movie. Clara was given the task of saving the Four Realms. When she opened a gift from her mother, she found a note that said, “Everything you need is inside.” Initially thought that ‘inside’ referred to the egg-shaped music box her mother gave her. But later on, she realized that ‘inside’ referred to herself: her inner courage, persistence, resilience, etc.
I would have thought this was clever lesson on building self-confidence, except for the fact that as soon as Clara read the note I knew the plot twist would essentially be the same as in Kung Fu Panda. In the movie, the main character, Po, received a sacred scroll that would supposedly give him the superpower to defeat the ultimate villain. But, plot twist, the scroll only showed Po’s reflection. He was devastated (just like Clara). But then, plot twist, he realized (like Clara), all that he needed in order to defeat the villain could be found within himself.
I was disappointed by the cliche; especially since I enjoyed so many other elements of the movie. If the plot twist was more original and if some of the characters’ motivations and development was more fully realized, the movie would have been, in my opinion, near perfection.