I shall be opening up The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, analysing its Christmas presence and unwrapping its layers to determine if it’s a gift from god or a clear and present danger. So read on only if you’ve already seen The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, or don’t plan to.
Fair warning: I loved this film (unlike you), and I’m here to show you why. While the story takes a traditional path that didn’t bother me, the visuals were so gorgeous (thanks to stellar cinematographer Linus Sandgren — American Hustle, La La Land) that I left the cinema happy to have seen it on the big screen. This post won’t be able to replicate that, but at least it’ll give you an idea of what you missed.
0:02:42 We’re introduced to Clara (the charming Mackenzie Foy) and her little brother (Tom Sweet as Fritz) who are catching a mouse in the attic. The Rube Goldberg machine is either meant to show us how intelligent Clara is or how she invented the game Mousetrap.
[🐣 Easter Egg: This film is ‘suggested’ by the story, “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King“, by E.T.A. Hoffman. Tchaikovsky’s ballet “The Nutcracker”, however, is based on Alexandre Dumas’ version of Hoffman’s tale, “La Casse-Noisette” (French for ‘nutcracker’). Both written versions use the surname Stahlbaum, the name used in this film. Clara is named after the heroine in Dumas’ story, while ‘Marie’ (her mother’s name in the film) is the heroine in the original Hoffman story.]
0:03:15 This figurine will become a living doll at 36:47.
Mr. Stahlbaum: What do we think?
Louise: It’s wonderful father.
Mr. Stahlbaum: With a few adjustments, perhaps…
Fritz: It’s not how mother did it.
This dialogue is meant to either inform us that Mrs. Stahlbaum has passed, or that Fritz is a little arsehole.
0:04:26 Mrs. Stahlbaum was so organised she selected Christmas presents before she died, while I can’t even do this on time and I’m alive. Fritz got toy soldiers, Louise a fancy dress that belonged to her mum, and Clara received a locked, pin tumbler decorative egg with a note instead of a key.
To my beautiful Clara, Everything you need is inside. Love, Mother
The yolk’s on her!
0:06:24 Louise dons her mother’s dress and her father is stupefied. Maybe he’s seeing her in a new light, and it’s not the candles.
0:08:42 🐣 In a subtle scene, we’re given insight into Professor Drosselmeyer’s character. The family is on their way to a giant gala at his mansion, when their carriage passes over a wooden plank connected to elaborate gears that open the front gate as the carriage passes. Thus, Drosselmeyer (Morgan Freeman) is an inventor, like Mrs. Stahlbaum and her daughter Clara. He’s her godfather, but if you take ‘god’ out of the equation, does that make him her father? 🤔
0:10:21 The owl which swooped through the opening of the film now alights in the basement of the mansion where Clara is seeking out her godfather. Apparently he works in the underground.
0:12:48 Drosselmeyer explains to Clara that he made the egg for her mother, that she might come to trust herself after recently becoming orphaned. We now see why Clara’s mum in turn bequeathed it to her.
Drosselmeyer: It’s Christmas eve! It’s going to be a magical night. [Clara leaves]
Drosselmeyer [to the owl]: Yes, I know, my friend. It won’t be easy, but it was her mother’s dying wish so go keep an eye on her.
To ensure she doesn’t become a Disney starlette.
0:14:08 🐣The ballet being performed before the guests is, of course, The Nutcracker.
0:14:37 & 39 To give the children their gifts, Drosselmeyer ties a coloured cord from the gazebo to the gift, with each child’s name written on a piece of paper attached to the ribbon. Looks like these gifts have strings attached.
0:15:22 Benjamin Stahlbaum criticises Clara for being selfish, and she mentions the same is true of him. This is the third reference to his grief, or lack thereof (in addition to this affront and Fritz’s at 3:23, Drosselmeyer mentions in his conversation with Clara (13:42) that Mr. Stahlbaum must be grieving, as well). Thus, we officially have ourselves a subplot.
0:15:56 Allow me to point out that the music we’re hearing as Clara follows the string to her present is Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker (and is available on the playlist that follows this article).
0:16:12 Fritz receives the gift of a Nutcracker Soldier and is far more excited than I would be, were I to receive the same. At 10, he’s certainly more mature.
0:16:41 🐣 It’s quite ingenious, actually, but as Clara takes the dark passage from the real world into the Nutcracker World, the wallpaper changes from an owl motif (hunter) to a rat motif (hunted).
0:17:21 As instructed by Drosselmeyer (13:42), the owl flies through the tree trunk egress to watch over Clara.
0:18:37 Before Clara can take the key in the tree the ribbon has led her to, a mouse snatches it and runs away faster than a teenage father.
0:20:10 Clara happens upon a Nutcracker soldier (Jayden Fowora-Knight as Captain Phillip Hoffman) who prevents her from crossing a bridge into the 4th Realm. He’s a gorgeous young man but his acting is a tad wooden — then again, so is the Nutcracker.
[N.B. The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is very similar on many levels to the classic The Wizard of Oz, in which a young girl is whisked away by a tornado into a strange land where she meets unusual characters and must defeat an evil witch. Plot lines aside, another element The Nutcracker has borrowed from Oz is the idea that elements the girl has in the real world show up in the fantasy world, as well. Here, for example, Fritz received a Nutcracker for Christmas (See 16:12), and Clara now meets one in this universe. There’s also the ballerina figurine at 3:15 who appears at 36:47.]
[Note: The Nutcracker’s name is a tribute to the writer of the tale this film is loosely based on: “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King”, by E.T.A. Hoffman. Possible 🐣 Is it just me, or does the name ‘Phillip Hoffman’ bear striking resemblance to ‘Philip Seymour Hoffman’, deceased genius actor? Perhaps it’s in tribute?]
0:21:18 The Captain informs Clara that she’s a princess in the land, as she’s a descendant of Queen Marie Stahlbaum. Still a better Queen than Bohrap.
0:24:20 Clara chases Mouserinks (the little rodent who stole the key) through the forest of the Fourth Realm, but then it’s attacked by a giant mouse (the Mouse King) made up of thousands of little mice. The CGI is as well done as a Texas steak.
0:25:31 Having eluded the Mouse King, Clara is eager to continue her search for the key when a voice booms out from a gigantic, rusted metallic doll in the shape of a circus tent. The entity refers to Clara by name and tells her to come and get her key, though Captain Phillip warns her to stay away from Mother Ginger. As the giant robot doll is operated by Mother Ginger, I think it’s safe to call it her lady parts.
[N.B. The two comical guards manning the entrance to the castle (Omid Djalili and Jack Whitehall as Cavalier and Harlequin) are based on the two squires introducing the guests at Drosselmeyer’s gala (9:24). Referring to my note at 20:10, just as the mouse from the intro scene shows up in the Fourth Realm, so to do these two men find their way from the real world to this one.]
0:28:01 Inside the castle walls, Clara must inform the regents of the three realms (Hawthorne (Eugenio Derbez), Regent of the Land of Flowers, Shiver (Richard E. Grant), Regent of the Land of Snowflakes, Sugar Plum (Keira Knightley), Regent of the Land of Sweets. Not pictured Mother Ginger (Helen Mirren), Regent of the Land of Amusements, aka, the Fourth Realm) of her mother, their queen’s, passing. The regents seem very sad until they propose a party. Too soon?
0:29:10 Wonderful cinematography with the wings of the throne in the background. Once again, Linus Sandgren (American Hustle, Joy and La La Land) is the talented director of photography.
0:30:58 Clara commands that Captain Phillip stay with her. Sounds like she’s the Captain now.
0:31:07 Sugar Plum explains that Mother Ginger was a regent who tried to take control of the other realms and even her own people wanted her banished. Those Gingers can be real Mothers.
0:32:44 Sugar Plum shows Clara that time moves more slowly in the real world than in the Four Realms, so she doesn’t have to worry about staying away too long. I wish clubs had something like this!
0:36:47 At the pageant (see 28:01), Clara is forced to sit through a ballet which details the creation of the Four Realms and the arrival of her mum therein. The best thing about this ballet is its length (under 5 minutes, though if you like ballets, you’ll no doubt find this one very ballet-y).
[ 🐣 Easter Egg: Note the orchestra conductor is back-lit. This is a nod to the Disney animated film Fantasia in which the conductor is also presented in silhouette, and which includes a performance of the “Nutcracker”. In the following collage, the Fantasia scene is on top and the lower photo is from The Nutcracker and the Four Realms.]
0:39:18 As Sugar Plum is the Regent of the Land of Sweets, even her coiffure is confectionery.
0:40:04 I know I joked about the ballet earlier, but as an ignoramus to the art (the only thing I know about ballet is the spelling), this looks extremely well choreographed and danced. Are there any experts out there who can confirm or repudiate this?
0:41:36 Sugar Plum explains to Clara that everyone in this world was an inanimate object that Marie brought to life with The Engine.
0:42:04 In order to wage a war against Mother Ginger and her mice, Clara must find a key to the Engine so that they might make toy soldiers real, for they are made of mettle.
0:45:52 The night before she’s to return to the Fourth Realm and search for the key, Clara remembers her mum telling her about the secret world she created, and how her mum looked as though she were already dead. Then the owl pops his head in the window so that we don’t forget he exists.
0:49:48 I can’t help but wonder if cinematographer Linus Sandgren based this decor on these abandoned theme parks.
0:51:44 Clara and her troops are attacked by a wave of mice who take them more underground than watching Eraserhead in a cellar.
0:52:22 Clara is taken to a meeting with the giant metal lady whose skirts are glowing like hot pants.
0:53:10 These polichinelles are things clowns are scared of.
0:54:02 Mother Ginger (Helen Mirren) appears and seems broken up about something.
0:57:21 After stealing the key from Mother Ginger, Clara opens her mother’s gift only to find it’s a simple music box and not the “Everything you need” she’d she’d been promised.
0:59:10 Despite this setback, she sees the owl and decides to wage the war, which seems to be about how politicians decide as well.
1:02:42 Clara gives the key to Sugar Plum, who switches on the machine that makes the tin soldiers (see 4:26 for the origin story) grow larger than life. She then imprisons Clara and the Captain, as well as shrinking those soldiers loyal to them. We learn that it’s she, Sugar Plum, and not Mother Ginger, who is the real traitor. One shouldn’t judge books by their cover stories.
1:05:37 In prison, Clara discovers there is a mirror in her mum’s egg and suddenly, the message becomes clear to her. “Everything she needs” is a mirror because looking good is very important. 🤣
1:07:18 WTF!? To escape, Clara uses the laws of physics (remember she’s a brain) where she jumps off a narrow ledge holding an end of a rope while the Captain simultaneously throws the weighted opposite end of the same rope around the ledge so that it wraps around while she drops, slowing her fall and stopping inches from the lower ledge. Why don’t they just tie the rope to the ledge?
1:15:32 While the Captain and Mother Ginger’s automaton lady parts fight off the tin soldier invasion, Clara fights in the engine room, where the soldiers were made. There’s more metal here than my Spotify playlists. Almost.
1:21:08 While Mother Ginger distracts the soldiers and Sugar Plum, Clara is busy fiddling about with the shrinking machine with her inventor skills so that, after Sugar Plum presses the button to shrink Mother Ginger, the ray turns back on Sugar Plum and transforms her into a wee porcelain doll. Talk about a hot piece of glass.
1:21:20 At that precise moment, all the tin soldiers collapse and, as they were under Sugar Plum’s control (and she no longer exists), they revert back to their inanimate state.
1:24:36 Now that Clara has saved the day — and the realms — she’s to return to reality. Her goodbyes to the Captain make us think she’ll be back to crack some nuts.
1:26:38 Drosselmeyer greets her upon her return to remind us he has no real role in this film.
1:27:42 Clara and her father make up after a fight we don’t remember them having.
1:28:24 As father and daughter dance to the music box in the gazebo, he remarks that the song that’s playing is the first one he and his wife danced to. There’s certainly a point to this, though I’ve no idea what that might be.
1:29:19 And suddenly the party is no longer over and everyone is back in the ballroom for one final WTF!?
1:30:26 Roll credits to the Nutcracker ballet being performed
1:33:28 The song being performed afterwards is ‘Fall On Me’ as performed by Andrea and Matteo Bocelli, and can be found on the playlist below.
- WTF!?’s: 5 that cracked my nuts
- When to Follow: Christmas eve with the family on the biggest and best projector you’ve got
- Where’s This Found: I was aware of the negative reviews when I saw this in the cinema, so I kept waiting for the part where the film became detestable but that part never came. The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is like a tasty Christmas cookie: it has all the right ingredients, is a little too saccharine and looks incredible. 🍪 While the visuals are extremely Baroque in nature, the story, like the original Tchaikovsky ballet, has clear Romantic influences which mean the plot and the music go together like feet and pointe shoes. 💃 My take is, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is meant for adults who remember what it means to be a child, and for children who want to know how it feels to be an adult. Out of a possible 10, I have 7 F’s to give
- What To Feedback: Have you seen The Nutcracker…?
Left Over WTF (Way Too Funny) Photos
Left over photos
What to Follow Up
Bar None Review
366 Weird Movies
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