realms on realms

The Four Realms From The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, Explained

Gang’s all here. Photo: Laurie Sparham/Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Midway through the title of the movie The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, you arrive in an uncertain place, much like Dante at the beginning of The Inferno. You have probably heard of The Nutcracker. It’s the ballet they always do at Christmas! It’s Tchaikovsky! There’s the whole thing where the girl falls asleep at a Christmas party and then dreams up adventures with a handsome Nutcracker who is always extremely buff and who sparks — personally speaking — a sexual awakening.

But then there’s the other half of the title: What, exactly, are the Four Realms? Why are there four of them? Are you currently living in one of those realms? Do they have nuts that need to be cracked? Fear not, for we at Vulture have seen the movie and are here to answer every question you could possibly have about the realms — and more.

What are the Four Realms?
The realms, which the film occasionally and inconsistently refers to as “lands,” are: The Land of Sweets, the Land of Snowflakes, the Land of Flowers, and the Fourth Realm — previously known as The Land of Amusements. They are all connected by a big, Russian-style palace with turnip turrets, even though the movie’s set in London. If you, much like the audience observing the curtain before a performance of Wicked, need a map to follow all this, Entertainment Weekly has one.

The realms are pretty much a riff on a few of the dances in The Nutcracker ballet (itself based on an E.T.A. Hoffman story), which includes a waltz of the snowflakes, a waltz of the flowers, and whole set of dances in the land of the sweets. As you might guess, the Land of the Sweets is filled with candy, the Land of the Flowers is filled with flowers, and the Land of the Snowflakes is hella cold.

The Fourth Realm, however, is a little different from the others, in that it has fallen into disrepair and is currently occupied by a bunch of dead trees, mushrooms, and mice — and a circus tent capped with a giant robotic Helen Mirren. Mirren’s character, Mother Ginger, used to run this realm back when it was full of amusements, but she turned evil and the other realms united against her. This, from what I understand, is remarkably similar to the plot of Avatar: The Last Airbender. That, however, is a story with four nations, not realms, and I’m sure a Disney lawyer would remind you that those are two very different kinds of geographical entities.

Where are the Four Realms?
This is where we bring in the movie’s main character: Clara Stahlbaum, played by Mackenzie Foy. When the movie starts, Clara’s mother has died and Clara is very sad, especially since her mother left her a locked egg-shaped device for Christmas that she can’t open. Anyway, she still has to go to a Christmas party held by the inventor Drosselmeyer (Morgan Freeman), and because Drosselmeyer has nothing better to do, he sends all the children off on an elaborate treasure hunt to find their gifts by following pieces of string around his house. Clara follows hers through a Narnia-esque hidden passageway and ends up in the realms. So the realms are somewhere within Drosselmeyer’s house, and one sequence in the movie implies that they exist inside his grandfather clock.

Who created the Four Realms?
Clara’s mother! Or, at least, Clara’s mother found her way into Drosselmeyer’s clock, and then remade the realms as she pleased. The movie’s a little unclear on the realms’ backstory — it delivers the aforementioned bit of exposition via an extended ballet sequence starring Misty Copeland — but basically everyone in the realms says that Clara’s mother was their queen, and accepts Clara as her rightful heir. Well, except for the mouse from the Fourth Realm who steals the key that Drosselmeyer had given Clara for Christmas and then brings that key to Helen Mirren.

Who rules the Four Realms now?
In Clara’s mother’s absence, four regents have taken over each of the realms. They are: Keira Knightley’s Sugar Plum, who rules the Land of Sweets; Richard E. Grant’s Shiver, who rules the Land of Snowflakes; Eugenio Derbez’s Hawthorne, who rules the Land of Flowers; and, of course, Helen Mirren’s Mother Ginger. Of the three opposed to Mother Ginger, Sugar Plum has the most authority, and she runs the operation with an iron fist and a cotton candy wig (at one point, Keira Knightley actually eats part of her hair). Lower on the chain of command is the Nutcracker himself, a.k.a. Phillip, who’s played by Jayden Fowora-Knight. Despite being the title character, he doesn’t have much to do.

When are the Four Realms?
The movie takes place in the 1870s, but the way time works within its plot is kind of fascinating (if you’re the kind of person who’s fascinated by the internal logic of C-list Disney blockbusters). According to Sugar Plum, time moves much faster within the realms than it does in the real world, so if you look out from inside the Grandfather Clock into the real world, you’ll see everything back in the real world in slow-motion.

Are the Four Realms scary?
In the Fourth Realm, there is a giant rat-king creature made up of a teeming mass of small rats, which moves around and attacks things and will scar you and your children for life. Other than that, they’re not scary.

Do the laws of physics as defined by Sir Isaac Newton still apply within the Four Realms?
Weirdly, yes! Time is wonky, and it’s possible bring toys to life within the realms (we’ll get to that in a second), but the movie is very insistent on the fact that Newtonian physics apply, because Clara is a budding STEM genius and has to solve problems by shouting about them. Despite this, The Nutcracker does not explain how the laws of physics allow Keira Knightley to fly. In this way, she is like the bees in Bee Movie.

Wait, so is there magic in the Four Realms?
Sort of! Though the movie focuses on the mechanical elements, something magical is definitely afoot. One minor example: Clara’s mother built a giant microscope-like device that brings toys to life, which is how she created everyone in the realm and why they worship her. Now that Clara’s back, Mother Ginger and Sugar Plum want the key to that device, so they can turn it on again, but no one knows where it is. Turns out it’s the same key that Drosselmeyer left Clara for Christmas. How convenient!

Why are the Four Realms at war?
That’s a spoiler! Do you really want me to spoil The Nutcracker and the Four Realms for you? You’ve already read so much about the movie. Just go see it for yourself and come back!

No, really! Stop reading now! There are some wild developments in this movie and I don’t want to be responsible for spoiling them!

Okay, now that it’s just us true Four Realms diehards, back to business.

The realms are at war because humans — and human-like toys brought magically to life — lust for power, and because Sugar Plum is a freaking fascist war hawk in cotton candy clothing! Even though Sugar Plum claimed Mother Ginger was in the wrong, it turns out that she engineered a coup against the Land of Amusements once Clara’s mother disappeared. Now that Clara’s arrived, Sugar Plum wants Clara’s key so that she can use her mother’s device to create her own army out of tin soldiers and rule the four realms herself. Yes, Mother Ginger was actually good and Sugar Plum was bad, it’s a twist you’d never seen coming if you hadn’t already seen Frozen, or Toy Story 3, or Zootopia, or Wreck-It Ralph, or Coco, or paid any attention to this movie.

In addition to wanting to be the queen, Sugar Plum is super horny about her tin soldiers — at one point, Keira Knightley, a genius, shouts, “Hello, boys!” at her mechanized infantry with hypersexual glee, which is sure to become the only GIF I will use for the rest of my life. This is all maybe a metaphor about how femininity can be used to enable a fascist military state, with Knightley as a fructose Ivanka Trump and Mother Ginger as — as my friend suggested at a screening — Hillary Clinton? And Clara is a millennial who is suddenly given great authority and realizes she has to vote, because not taking any action would make her complicit? This metaphor, like the Four Realms under Sugar Plum’s rule, is falling apart.

How does peace return to the Four Realms?
Clara shoots the laser from the life-giving device at Sugar Plum and turns her back into a toy! Keira Knightley’s soul is zapped from existence, somehow — Four Realms offers no theories on the ontology of souls; I hope a sequel addresses this — and she shrinks down into a lifeless doll. This doesn’t bother anyone, because Sugar Plum was evil.

Does The Nutcracker and the Four Realms cast member Matthew Macfadyen get to visit the Four Realms?
No. Despite playing Clara’s father and killing it on Succession, Macfadyen has to stay back at the party and look sad in slow-motion. I was disappointed.

Why are there four realms?
It’s a nice number.

Why are the realms?
Man, I don’t know.

The Four Realms From the New Nutcracker Movie, Explained