On DVD: The Nutcracker and the Four Realms

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is … a movie. It’s a movie that never quite justifies its existence and makes you realize, through its sheer abundance, that every single detail was a conscious decision someone made — and several other someones agreed to put onscreen. It’s a lot. And none of it is good.

Although the most puzzling thing about Nutcracker is why, exactly, high-caliber actors like Keira Knightley, Helen Mirren and Richard E. Grant agreed to be in it (besides that sweet, sweet Disney money, anyway), a close second is the fact that it’s virtually the same movie as Mary Poppins Returns, and that Disney, for whatever reason, decided to release these less-than-stellar fantasies a month apart from each other. Sad dads and dead moms? Check. Plucky kid(s) going on an nonsensical adventure with a melange of whimsical adults and learning that Dead Mom isn’t really gone as long as the family she left behind remembers her? Ugh, check. Too much CGI to cover up the lack of a decent (or even coherent) story? Cheeeeeeck.

The best I can say for Nutcracker is that, having missed it last November and watched it for its DVD / Blu-ray release in January, it actually makes Mary Poppins Returns look like a stellar and thoughtful movie in comparison. Nutcracker, meanwhile, is never sure what it wants to be, besides an Alice in Wonderland / Wizard of Oz / Chronicles of Narnia ripoff. If it wants reinvent the Nutcracker tale, why does it also slavishly reference the original E.T.A. Hoffman short story and the Tchaikovsky ballet — to the point of a ballet sequence shoehorned in to simultaneously showcase Misty Copeland and dump a metric ton of exposition as boring as it is unoriginal? The mind boggles.

I could say the production and costume design is good, but it’s not. Visually, this movie is just busy and, at the same time, weirdly lazy. When Knightley’s Sugar Plum Fairy reveals her true, tyrannical intentions (sorry for the spoiler, but honestly, who cares), she ditches her affected girlish whine for a lower-toned purr and the sleeves of her gown slip from her shoulders because … she’s evil now, and she can’t be evil if she’s not a little sexy, I guess? I would call it cartoonish but that would be an insult to cartoons.

It’s clear from the start that Disney had no faith in Nutcracker, even as a pre-Christmas cash grab. With its $120 million budget, they doubtless wanted a new holiday classic and instead got a mess. There’s nothing here for Nutcracker fans and too much going on at all times for small children to enjoy or establish a connection. It takes some kind of magic for a movie to be both lifeless and overstimulating, so at least in that regard Disney continues to live up to its brand.

It also makes sense, then, that the DVD / Blu-ray special features are hilariously spare. Two featurettes, both clocking in at under 10 minutes, highlight the only interesting things about Nutcracker — Misty Copeland, and the movie’s production and development (which barely helps to answer the only question that lingers: Who made that decision?!). A handful of perfunctory deleted scenes and music videos complete the bonus features.

That’s it. That’s the DVD.

Don’t buy it.


The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is now available on 4K UHD, Blu-ray, DVD and digital platforms.



Aly Caviness is lifelong film obsessive, co-owner / administrator of Midwest Film Journal, and member of the Indiana Film Journalist's Association. Through Lynch, her grandmother taught her how to spot “The Girl,” and through Frankenstein, her grandfather taught her how to love in spite of fear. She blames Jack Sparrow for her MA in colonial Atlantic history and Guy Pearce for her marriage.


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