The Nutcracker and the Four Realms

Jacob Richardson | 25/11/2018

Visually sumptuous and costumed out the wazoo, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms shoves a slim story in a shiny new package.


It’s the first christmas after her mother has passed away, and Clara (Mackenzie Foy) is surprised to find that she has left her a gift; a locked silver egg. While trying to find the key, she stumbles into the Four Realms - a mystical dimension where time passes differently to the outside world. She quickly finds out that her mother was once Queen here, and that the people of three of the realms are desperate for her to help them stop the ruler of the fourth, the dastardly Mother Ginger (Helen Mirren).


This iteration of the classic tale is, relatively speaking, incredibly rote. It’s by the numbers storytelling, with very little in the way of intriguing plot developments or gripping storytelling. Directors Lasse Hallstrom Joe Johnston never manage to create real stakes, and we thus never really feel like Clara (or indeed any of the characters in the film) is in real danger.


The dialogue is also, frankly, horrible. It is an affront to anyone who has had a normal conversation, and the manipulation of it is so obvious that any potential twists and turns in villain and hero categorisation is guessable from the oft.


There are a few good performances, with Jayden Fowora-Knight making a positive impact. Mackenzie Foy is certainly the standout, and if anything can be taken away from The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, it is certainly that Foy is likely to be the next big thing. But the older cast feels not only missplaced, but consistently make creative choices that will leave you scratching your head. As Clara’s father, Matthew Macfayden is so one note that you question why they even bothered to hire him, when they could have animated another tin man to take his place and achieved a broader emotional range. Helen Mirren, undoubtedly slumming it in this small role, dances around whipping soldiers left and right, but her circus act never really convinces. Morgan Freeman feels entirely out of place with his American brogue as the eye-patch wearing inventor godfather of Clara, and immediately draws you out of your suspension of disbelief.


But most egregious is Keira Knightley. Knightley’s Sugar Plum is undoubtedly given the worst dialogue of the piece, and Knightley struggles to connect with the tired tropes laden throughout her script. But her high-pitched, sugary sweet dialect choice grates at every possible opportunity, as does her post-revelation mannerisms while operating heavy machinery or issuing ultimatums. It is a confusing, strange performance that feels out of place in a movie where everyone else seems like they just aren’t trying that hard.


Indeed, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms feels like a movie where they let the actors and screenwriters just cruise along at 50%, reassuring them that the mise-en-scene would make up for their subpar work. Luckily for them, in many respects it does.


The film is absolutely gorgeous. From a cinematography perspective, there are a tonne of really beautifully framed shots, like Mother Ginger’s gigantic body coming through the mist over the treetops, a crane shot over Foy as she scales a waterfall, or a beautiful lens flare when she climbs inside a castle. They are coupled with a set that is stunningly designed, with particular highlights being the grand castle and the inventors workshop.


Disney marketed this film with a tour of the costumes, which was at first confusing. But after having seen the film, you can understand why they chose to do so. The costuming is painstakingly beautiful, and utterly immersive. It really is a sight to behold. It is just a shame that the substance under such incredible visuals is absent.

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An undeniably beautiful film, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms falls on its lack of story and substance.