Podcast Mini Episode - The Nutcracker and the Four Realms Movie Review
Mainlining Christmas reviews the surreal new film, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms.
Nutcracker Fantasy (Now Available on DVD)
Erin: Welcome to the first ever mini-episode of the Mainlining Christmas Podcast. We just got back from watching The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, the new holiday-themed fantasy film from Disney.
Lindsay: For those of you who missed the advertisements, this is the live action sequel to the animated Disney Nutcracker movie from the 60’s that doesn’t… actually… exist.
Erin: It’s weird because it’s structured as a sequel in the exact same way Tim Burton’s live-action Alice in Wonderland was.
Lindsay: Like, the EXACT same way.
Erin: But Disney never actually adapted the original, unless you count those segments in Fantasia.
Lindsay: The makers of Four Realms certainly seemed to. There’s an extended homage to Disney’s Fantasia in the middle of the movie and a callback during the end credits.
Erin: It makes an already surreal experience even more so. It’s like you’re watching a movie imported from another dimension.
Lindsay: And I wish that had translated into a weirdly brilliant or a brilliantly weird film. I went in really hoping for that. Unfortunately, this is not a good movie.
Erin: It isn’t, and yet, oddly enough, I liked it.
Erin: Let me put this in perspective. I also like Wild Wild West. In fact, I’d say that the same part of me that likes Wild Wild West liked Nutcracker and the Four Realms. For the same reasons, in fact. I enjoyed this as a spectacle and maybe even as an experience.
Lindsay: I didn’t hate it. I can definitely go that far.
Erin: I’m not arguing it’s a good movie - I don’t think that would be defensible. The writing is awful, and I don’t know what happened in post-production, but the end result is definitely a mess.
Lindsay: It’s not often you get a movie with two credited directors who weren’t working together.
Erin: I lost track of the number of times backstories were left unexplained or plot threads were just abandoned. But honestly, I just didn’t care all that much.
Lindsay: It felt like something written or revised by multiple committees.
Erin: Drosselmeyer’s owl is the most obvious example of this for me. The animal is sent to watch over Clara, and it shows up periodically throughout the movie. And it does… absolutely nothing.
Lindsay: I think it leads her onto a roof once. Not that anything happens once she’s up there.
Erin: I kept expecting it to help in a fight or an escape or something, but it’s just kind of hanging out. Again, I don’t mind - I like owls. They remind me of Labyrinth.
Lindsay: And that’s just one of many examples. The movie relies on a fairly robust backstory for the kingdom - a civil war broke out, and one of the four realms has been reduced to a post-apocalyptic wasteland. The details of this aren’t trivial - the movie’s central twist hangs on them. And we get… nothing. No explanation. Someone did something, and it was bad.
Erin: Yeah. It’s kind of weird that I don’t care more about any of that. But I just kind of accepted the story to Four Realms was going to be like the string leading to Drosselmeyer’s gift: a thin, meaningless thread leading from set-piece to set-piece.
Lindsay: I want to say your enjoyment of this movie is going to depend on how much you like those set-pieces and how much you’re willing to overlook the story and the characters.
Erin: Fortunately for me, I really liked those set-pieces. The foggy, broken-down realm, in particular, is beautiful and impressively creepy.
Lindsay: I’ll admit I liked Mother Ginger’s clockwork mech suit. It’s a cool extrapolation from the traditional costume from the ballet.
Erin: Yeah, and same with the Mouse King. He’s basically Clayface, but made of mice - that’s awesome.
Lindsay: And again, that plays off of ideas from the source material. Also, insert “House of Mouse” joke here.
Erin: A lot of the visuals appealed to me. I even had fun with the absurd CG backdrops of Victorian London, anachronisms be damned.
Lindsay: Oh, I hated the CG London, but the movie overall is very pretty. I really liked a lot of the costume design, and the shots were well-composed. The sets are nice; it’s visually quite nice.
Erin: I was surprised how many of the costumes were practical. For a movie this CG-heavy, there were a lot of real outfits - often silly outfits - on display.
Lindsay: There are a lot of problems with this movie, but the design showed real imagination.
Erin: That kind of encapsulates this in a nutshell.
Lindsay: Pun intended?
Erin: Yes. The story is generic, the characters are paper-thin, but the world is interesting. If it’s a world that appeals to you, you’ll probably be able to overlook the flaws, like I was.
Lindsay: Fortunately, the trailers do a good job showcasing that world. Don’t expect anything beyond what you’re seeing there, and you won’t be disappointed. Maybe.
Erin: I liked a few other aspects. The casting was solid, overall.
Lindsay: I think the actors were trying, despite the uneven dialogue. It was nice to see a big-budget fantasy movie where three of the four leads were women.
Erin: Plus our heroine Clara’s power comes from science and math.
Lindsay: Yup, that’s heavily established, but once again, it doesn’t ever pay off.
Erin: Fair point.
Lindsay: On the other hand, the ballet interlude features the famous prima ballerina Misty Copeland, so of course that’s lovely. And the music is good. But what do you expect when you’ve got Tchaikovsky to play with?
Erin: Ultimately, this feels like a knock-off of Alice in Wonderland or Wizard of Oz reskinned for Christmas.
Lindsay: Which would be more original if Babes in Toyland hadn’t done the same thing decades ago.
Erin: Sure. But we’ve never gotten a version of Toyland with production values anywhere near this good.
Lindsay: Give it a few years.
Erin: Well, until then, Nutcracker and the Four Realms is about as cool of a Christmas fantasy crossover as you’re likely to find. It’s still not actually good, but this is a subgenre with a low bar.
Lindsay: Alternatively, you could check out the 1979 Japanese stop-motion special, Nutcracker Fantasy. When it comes to truly trippy visuals, it’s got Four Realms beat hands down.
Erin: Yeah, between the two, Nutcracker Fantasy is cooler as a fantasy reimagining of The Nutcracker. But I do still think Four Realms is a fascinating addition to the holiday genre movie, sort of pantheon. It’s a bad film, no question, but it’s pretty to look at and it never gets boring.
Lindsay: It’s certainly not the worst thing you could be watching. And, as long as they can handle a few creepy sequences, feel free to bring the kids. They should have fun with it.
Erin: I think that’s all for now. Stay tuned for more full episodes and short movie reviews from Mainlining Christmas wherever you get your podcasts.
Lindsay: And visit us at MainliningChristmas.com for more holiday cheer.