The Nutcracker and the Four Realms (2018): ‘Style Over Substance’ – A Film Review



In the recent string of Disney’s grittier live action remakes and reboots, we have The Nutcracker and the Four Realms. This recent generation of Disney films tends to dispense with the musical numbers to some degree in favour of darker tones and looks. The fantasy-like colourful cartoons give way to the mud and blood that characters have to fight through. This isn’t always the case, Beauty and the Beast (2017) had unnecessarily dark moments instead and kept, though a rather stuck and rigid looking, musical side. The Nutcracker and the Mouse King is the classic Christmas tale of a fantasy land populated by toys, dolls and mice. Perhaps most famous as Tchaikovsky’s ballet, from which some numbers had already seen a Disney iteration within Fantasia, the tale is now a famously told and retold as a Christmas children’s story. Perhaps its high levels of fantasy relate to the not so long ago released Alice in Wonderland (2010), that Disney had rebooted with Tim Burton in the director’s chair. Whatever it’ll try to be, or route it’ll take, remains to be seen.


A Designed Film

In fact there’s a lot going on. Certainly The Nutcracker and the Four Realms falls into the over the top style that Alice in Wonderland had, though without the Tim Burton feel, whilst also with the colours and over the top-ness that actually crept into Beauty and the Beast (2017). There are certain worlds that still have that Tim Burton Victorian darkness but generally characters are larger than life but also full of life. Keira Knightley especially does well with this balance. She doesn’t feel real but that certainly fits the point. If you imagine the characters as toys for children then it makes sense, whilst it also fits the target audience. This makes sense tonally as plot points are simple and predictable in a way that adults groan to but children love. This all manages to make The Nutcracker and the Four Realms simple but beautiful, especially in its design – that amazingly peaks through its, far too rare, nods to Fantasia. The world is that of a child and it’s majesty is amazingly elaborate.


The Games We Play

The more rooted character of Clara (Mackenzie Foy), allows for a good stand in for the story and counterbalances the absolute imagination within other characters. But most actors can’t pull the style off. With one or two exceptions, Keira Knightly, amazingly, is the only one to really pull off this playfully fake demeanour. She gracefully is there but not there, her mind lost to the games that she plays. It wont matter for its target audience too much, but struggles to keep the film to have much depth beyond its sparkles and dresses.



The Nutcracker and the Four Realms allows for very brief entertainment, getting lost when it tries to be anything further. It is predictable and tame, stale and simple and yet amazingly stylish. Though unfortunately only some actors are truly having fun with the material. There are definitely some worthwhile moments to be seen and it’s technical prowess and design makes for a truly imaginative and stunning look, but unfortunately the story doesn’t allow this to become a thoroughly good watch. It feels like a classic Disney tale, though apart from the live action and darker elements but not quite back to the cartoon fun of truly classic Disney.



Clara Stahlbaum is a young girl in a broken family, her mother having passed away and some time before had left them some presents for Christmas. Perhaps being the black sheep of the family and not understanding her present, Clara finds herself going into a faraway land of fairies, dolls, mice and tin soldiers; as she looks to find the purpose of her present and unite the four realms she finds there.




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A Note on My Reviews

Please read ‘On Reviews‘ for a guide to how I write film reviews. Any spoilers are appropriately marked and, though I personally prefer to know little about a film before seeing it, there is a synopsis below the review for any who wish to see one.


Films Mentioned

Alice in Wonderland (d. Burton USA 2010)

Beauty and the Beast (d. Bill Condon USA/UK 2017)

Fantasia (d. James Algar, Samuel Armstrong, Ford Beebe Jr., Norman Ferguson, David Hand, Jim Handley, T. Hee, Wilfred Jackson, Hamilton Luske, Bill Roberts, Paul Satterfield, Ben Sharpsteen USA 1940)

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms (d. Lasse Hallström, Joe Johnston USA 2018)


Further Reading

Official Site

Interview with Keira Knightley

Interview with Mackenzie Foy

TV Interview

Behind the Scenes

Fantasia Connections



If you liked this

The Incredibles 2 (2018): ‘The Parent Super Heroes’ – A Film Review

Coco (2017): ‘Pixar’s Dying Grace’ – A Film Review

Beauty and the Beast (2017) – A Film Review

Alice Through the Looking Glass (2016) – A Film Review

The BFG (2016) – A Film Review


This was an analytical review of….


The Nutcracker and the Four Realms (d. Lasse Hallström, Joe Johnston USA 2018)

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