We all know the tale of the evil queen or wicked stepmother displacing a heroine’s true or deceased mother, which leads the heroine to challenge the surrogate mother-figure. This tension has always been present in fairy tales, yet scholars have only begun investigating the implications of these relationships, which appear frequently now in film, particularly Disney movies such as The Nutcracker and the Four Realms (2018).
Inspired by the literary and balletic versions of The Nutcracker, The Four Realms captures Clara Stahlbaum’s journey into a parallel Otherworld where she discovers her identity as princess to the Four Realms. Within this Otherworld, Clara encounters Sugar Plum and Mother Ginger, who act as surrogate mothers to Clara, whose own mother is deceased. Sugar Plum, the epitome of femininity, and Mother Ginger, the rebel, fulfill the Good and Evil mother-figure tropes that complicate Clara’s mother-daughter relationship. Throughout the film, we witness Clara’s struggle to assert her own identity apart from Sugar Plum, Mother Ginger, and the legacy her mother left Clara as princess to the Realms and as an inventor.
My M.A. project explores how Disney’s The Nutcracker and the Four Realms depicts the relationship between girls and older women and its implications for an audience of maturing girls. The Four Realms offers intriguing alternative representations of femininity, femaleness, and female relations, and I’m examining how the film functions within the Disney princess canon as a possible feminist interpretation of traditional fairy tales.
— Caitlin Hymans (MA ’21)