The Nutcracker and the Four Realms (2018)

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms (2018) Cover

Though blunt to a fault as well as generally flawed, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is filled with warm sincerity wrapped around nightmare fuel. Director Lasse Hallström has created a visual work that harkens back to films like Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal in how the use of stunning visuals creates an unsettling family film. Viewers with an appreciation for that darkness will find something to cherish despite its rough execution.

What I admire most about The Nutcracker is a visual style that embraces uncomfortable visuals. While the original ballet is well known being a cherished Christmas tale, it seems few recall that it is tinged with shadows. Part of this is because the scariest parts of the ballet don’t translate to a modern audience.

Families today aren’t familiar with the filth of rats, and probably haven’t been for a few generations. Most children today haven’t seen a rat, and those that have probably have only seen them as clean well cared for pets. It makes translating the images that make it terrifying challenging, and I have to applaud The Nutcracker and the Four Realms for attempting to retain those elements.

In addition to the willingness to use its visuals to chilling effect, there’s a sincerity and warmth to the film that is worth noting. Throughout the film, there are themes of self-actualization that get tarnished by how bluntly and repeatedly they’re delivered, but they still managed to feel like they’re touched with a hint of sincerity that keeps them from being wholly diminished. I walked out of the theater feeling just a hint warmer and happier than going in. Be warned, though, that you do have to wrestle with some of the problems with the film’s execution to get at that underlying sincerity.

Second to the repetition and blunt over explanation of basic background information is the acting. Morgan Freeman appears to actually be bored, but at least that’s a real feeling. No one else seems to be able to bring any truth to their characters, at best feeling hollow and perfunctory.

It isn’t entirely the fault of the actors, though, as the writing ranges from mildly amusing to painfully bland. There just isn’t much there to work with. The majority of the humor is painfully dull-witted, though some moments are mildly amusing. I need to step back a minute, though, because it’s worth noting that this is a matter of perspective. Many of these jokes have roots in classics that I’ve been familiar with since I was a child, and there is definitely an audience for whom these gags will be the first time they hear them instead of the thousandth.

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms dances a fine line where it will be different things to different people. Adults tired of the tropes within it will be painfully bored, while children are likely to get a film that will stick with them through their life. One day those children will revisit this film trying to see if they liked it because it was good or just because they didn’t know better and they’ll find that it was just fine. I just can’t be that hard on a film whose biggest sins are mediocrity. There’s so much worse out there, and there’s definitely an audience who deserves to enjoy it.

Final Verdict:Mostly mediocre, though touched with a bit of warmth and weirdness that some will cherish.