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Film Review: A Half-Cooked Premise and Under-Utilized Actors Plague Disney’s “Nutcracker and the Four Realms”

Written by: Patrick Howard | November 2nd, 2018

Film poster: “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms”

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms (Lasse Hallstrom/Joe Johnston 2018) 1 out of 4 stars.

After countless interpretations and annual stage productions, Disney haphazardly dropkicks the iconic Nutcracker ballet into the high fantasy genre. What emerges is The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, a frustrating by-the-numbers fantasy that sheds any commitments to the original material or the other gimmicks it claims will help it stand out among the other adaptations. Mackenzie Foy plays Clara, a stubborn and wide-eyed girl, who has a real knack for fixing all things mechanical. The holiday season is here, and Clara and her family are finding it harder to carry on with smiles on their faces since the death of Clara’s mother. Clara’s closure for her mother’s death is put under more stress when she receives a mysterious locked gift with a missing key. Her father demands a stiff upper lip while they attend her godfather’s annual holiday ball. Clara’s godfather, played by Morgan Freeman, tells her that the key she’s searching for is at the end of a literal string. What Clara finds at the end of the string is not just a key but a gateway to a land of nutcracker soldiers, a rat army, and a sugar plum fairy.

Disney’s The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is a watered-down cocktail of the tired “chosen one” character arc and familiar characters and iconography of the original E.T.A Hoffmann short story and the Marius Petipa ballet. All of the key players from the Nutcracker mythology such as the Nutcracker soldier, Mother Ginger, and the Sugar Plum Fairy are quickly set up and ready to be given the Disney touch. When the film reaches the 30-minute mark, you realize it has more in common with Tim Burton’s 2010 Alice in Wonderland than any other property. Much like Alice, Clara is another uninteresting one of the chosen ones who fall into their self-importance and responsibility without ever proving themselves. Clara doesn’t drive the plot; she floats on it as if it were a lazy river at an amusement park.

Keira Knightley and Mackenzie Foy in THE NUTCRACKER AND THE FOUR REALMS ©Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Keira Knightley leads the supporting cast which includes Helen Mirren, Jack Whitehall, and Jayden Fowora-Knight. Each actor inhabits their colorful and intricate costumes with ease, but much like every other half-cooked idea in Nutcracker, these poor actors are given material that is nothing more than the clunky exposition of the origin of the four realms. The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is an embarrassing oversight on Disney’s part. A project like this, that boasts a star-studded cast, big-budgeted production, and vibrant color palette, still barely offers a passably fun romp for the entire family. The best course of action for anyone interested in learning more about the Nutcracker tale is to take your loved ones out for a wonderful dinner and then attend your city’s production of the Nutcracker ballet.


Patrick Howard has been a cinephile since age seven. Alongside 10 years of experience in film analysis and criticism, he is a staunch supporter of all art forms and believes their influence and legacy over human culture is vital. Mr. Howard takes the time to write his own narrative stories when he can.

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