Movie Review: ‘The Nutcracker and the Four Realms’


Director: Lasse Hallström and Joe Johnston

Cast: Mackenzie Foy, Jayden Fowora-Knight, Keira Knightley, Helen Mirren, Morgan Freeman, Misty Copeland

Plot: Clara Stahlbaum is a precocious and mechanically gifted young girl who is experiencing her first Christmas following the death of her mother. At a Christmas Eve party her Godfather Drosselmeyer gives her access to a magical world her mother once ruled over after giving life to toys and other items.

Review: Disney, you know that I love you and I know that we’re going to have a lot of fun together when Ralph breaks the internet, but we really need to talk about your live action problem. You used to have this under control but lately you’ve been resorted to copying from the animation department. The biggest problem is that when you try something new – and we’ll never discourage you from doing that – you have a problem picking a tone and sticking with it. Is The Nutcracker and the Four Realms a timeless Christmas coming of age, a fantasy feast for the sense or a horror movie on par with Stephen King?

Clara (Foy) is introduced building an impressive Rube-Goldberg machine to try and catch a mouse, setting up her talent for machines, physics and creative problem solving. Soon after we meet her family unit who are still grieving for their department mother. She has left them gifts, however, including an unconventional locked egg puzzle for Clara. Later they attend a lavish party of their Godfather’s estate, a large mansion filled with mechanical wonders built by Drosselmeyer (Freeman). When it’s time to receive gifts by following a string to it’s hidden location Clara finds herself transported to the magical Four Realms.

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Here she learns that her mother invented a machine to give life to inanimate objects who exist in this world. Clara, as the new Princess, learns about the Realm of Sweets, Flowers and Snowflakes but is warned against the Fourth Realm, the ruler of which has been banished by the remaining three. Unfortunately the key needed to open her mother’s egg is in the Fourth Realm, so Clara must face the Mother Ginger and Mouse King to retrieve it.

That’s a really convoluted retelling of the story, but it flows much better in the movie. It’s a simple A to B to C tale with a ballet assistant exposition dump part way through the second act. Besides, it’s a classic story, right? The old German folk tale adapted to a ballet and now to the big screen.

Actually this brings me to a the one part of this movie that really stuck with me. When the end credits rolled around it didn’t say that the movie was based on the original story, or even that it was inspired by it…it says that it was suggested by it. I have no idea what they mean by that but it sounds like some kind of copyright legal loophole that will stop them from being sued. It’s been a few hours and I’m still wondering about that.

Anyway, the movie. We shift between giant, mythical castles that dazzle the viewer, paired with some goofy comic relief guards and foggy, disturbing forests/crumbling amusement park and it can be a bit jarring. On one hand I think my 6 year old daughter would delight in the ballet and costumes and the Sugerplum Fairy but may not be able to sit through a gang of Russian nesting clowns who could teach Pennywise a thing or two about giving children nightmares. Mother Ginger’s giant ventriloquist doll/circus tent/mecha thing is also pretty horrifying.

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Time to turn things around and talk about the parts of the movie that I geneuinely enjoyed. As already stated the visuals are astounding and the design is wonderful. There’s not a single set, costume or make-up job that isn’t deeply fascinating and layered with detail. At times it’s like being smothered in fairy floss (or nightmare clowns).

Our lead actors are also suitably charming. MacKenzie Foy is shockingly talented and confident in a major leading role with Helen Mirren and Morgan Freeman as part of her support cast for a 17 year old. Little wonder when looking into her filmography to find that she’s been working in acting and modelling most of her life and already worked with Christopher Nolan. This could very well be the star making role that she’s been building up to even if the movie itself is less impressive. Jayden Fowora-Knight is also a decent talent as the Nutcracker himself (although some may be confused about why he got the title when he’s mostly a side character). He could well have a future ahead of him.

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Do we recommend this film? It’ll pass the time for the younger set you like the storybook style of fantasy. Aesthetically it feels like a parade at one of the Disney parks, which is fun. It’s unlikely to become anyone’s must-see Christmas movie though.

Rating: FIVE out of TEN

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