Disney’s The Nutcracker and the Four Realms looks every inch a fantasy world but look beyond the CGI and you’ll find impressive practical effects and very real film locations.
The movie was directed by Lasse Hallström and Joe Johnston, but it fell to Inception’s Oscar-nominated production designer Guy Hendrix Dyas to conjure up the beloved magical dreamland – all while keeping the historical setting convincing.
“It was quite a lot of pressure to me to create every eight-year-old’s fantasy of The Nutcracker”
Guy Hendrix Dyas, Production Designer
Dyas took inspiration from the real London of 1879, and he turned to practical effects as often as possible – whether shooting on set or in a stately home - to get the magical finish that shaped Disney's Nutcracker real filming locations into something otherworldly.
The snow isn’t entirely real but the opening flowers in the pageant scene as Misty Copeland, first African American Female principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre, dances alongside Sergei Polunin are mechanical inventions. Later in the movie, the tin soldiers really are 14 ft tall puppets.
You might just be surprised to find out which settings were specially created and which were achieved with a Grade II-listed building and a splash of paint.
Where Was The Nutcracker and the Four Realms Filmed?
The Nutcracker and the Four Realms was shot at Pinewood and Shepperton Studios on the edge of London and filming locations across South Kensington, Dulwich and stately homes in Buckinghamshire, Hampshire and Middlesex.
Newcomer Jayden Fowora-Knight’s scenes as the Nutcracker, or Captain Phillip Hoffman (a nod to Nutcracker author ETA Hoffman) were shot on sound stages.
Keira Knightley as the Sugarplum Fairy, and Helen Mirren as Mother Ginger, the menacing ruler of the Fourth Realm, also appear exclusively in scenes shot at Pinewood and Shepperton.
“Three separate forest sets were built at Pinewood to realise the Fourth Realm. Each was designed to cater for the needs of specific scenes such as a clear path for horses to pass through, and a space for a full-size carousel.”
Alex Gladstone, Supervising Location Manager
Clara’s house filming location was Harefield House on the western fringes of London, a stone’s throw Pinewood studios. The unoccupied mansion was used for interior shots of the Stahlbaum family home, with Pride and Prejudice star Matthew MacFadyen as Clara’s father and Twilight’s Mackenzie Foy stepping into Clara’s slippers.
Harefield House on Harefield Grove Farm was previously used as the house on Soldier Island in the BBC’s chilling adaptation of And Then There Were None, but happily this is a more upbeat adventure.
Its stuccoed exterior hides a location manager’s treasure trove of settings from contemporary office and production spaces to Victorian parlours and stairwells. You can probably guess which of Harefield House’s locations The Nutcracker and the Four Realms shot in.
The Carriage Ride
As the carriage rattles along Kensington Gore, Royal Albert Hall is clearly seen on the route from Clara’s house to the Christmas party – albeit heavily lit and dusted with snow.
It’s a fitting backdrop for the mix of arts and science that Disney’s Nutcracker throws together, as the famous concert hall was one of the centres of culture and research to spring up in the wake of the Great Exhibition of 1851.
Sadly we’re too late to catch a performance of the ballet live at South Kensington’s iconic venue. A year before the movie’s release, the Birmingham Royal Ballet danced an acclaimed performance of The Nutcracker here.
Uncle Drosselmeyer’s House
When the Stahlbaum family visit Morgan Freeman’s Uncle Drosselmeyer for his annual Christmas party, Minley Manor in Hampshire is the first of the four Uncle Drosselmeyer’s house filming locations we see.
The mansion was built in the 1860 by Henry Clutton, who came up with the unusual blend of Gothic and French Chateau styles seen today. The vestibule, clock and stair towers were added twenty years later.
It appears in Stardust while Hawley Common, adjoining the estate, was used in franchise movies Die Another Day and Jurassic Kingdom.
In The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, look for the red brick exterior and Victorian stylings of Uncle Drosselmeyer’s house when Clara and her family arrive for the party. Its cloister-like arches are clearly seen later in the movie.
Some changes were made in post-production, and sadly the fantastical maze isn’t an everyday feature either, but the practical effects which turned this manor house into a festive wonderland are pretty spectacular too.
Minley Manor was used for one of the quintessential Nutcracker shots – the towering Christmas tree. Uncle Drosselmeyer’s tree was illuminated with nearly 1000 real candles, which had to be individually lit – but that’s not the most drastic step taken. To fit the 18 ft evergreen into the hall, the crew had to take on some painstaking removal work.
“…beyond the relatively standard logistical elements such as processing background artists and horses and carriages into artificially snowy sets, we also had to remove and replace a vast chandelier, in order to accommodate an equally vast Christmas tree, and paint and repaint the listed ex-Rothschild Mansion at Halton from white to plum and back again.”
Alex Gladstone, Supervising Location Manager
The boldly painted hall belongs to Halton House, a former Rothschild property in the heart of Buckinghamshire that is now an RAF officers’ mess – and a popular filming location.
It’s appeared in The Crown, Downton Abbey, The King’s Speech and many productions besides. Halton House can only be accessed by the public on rare open days, though of course you’ll find the interior is painted a far more sedate white.
And so to the room where the ballet theatre is set up. Founded in the early 17th Century under letters patent of James VI and I, Dulwich College boasts the kind of grand architecture which can stand in for any number stately settings.
The Nutcracker makes use of the medieval-inspired space Uncle Drosselmeyer’s ballroom filming location, with the unusually shaped dark beams fitting seamlessly alongside the similarly curious designs of Syon Park’s Great Conservatory.
As fantastical as it looks onscreen, Uncle Drosselmeyer’s study filming location is very real. Syon House’s Great Conservatory combines industrial steelwork with the rest of the house’s Palladian style, an innovation in the 19th Century.
But Disney fans might know it better from Alice Through the Looking Glass, where it was part of the Ascot mansion. Just like Clara in The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, Alice passes through the conservatory while attending a party before finding her way into an enchanted world.
Real Locations Identifiable in the Four Realms
The Fourth Realm, an eerie rundown fairground, was built entirely on set but the other three were built with a combination of sets and CGI backdrops inspired by real locations around Germany, Sweden and Russia.
We catch a glimpse of the streets of The Land of Sweets and the Land of Snowflakes when we meet the rulers of each realm. As part of the montage that intersperses the pageant, Clara is seen taking a carriage ride through the streets.
There’s nowhere quite as fantastical in real life, but fans of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang might just recognise the streets of Rothenberg ob der Tauber (the 1968 movie’s Vulgaria filming location). While Dick van Dyke and co really did film on the streets of the Bavarian town, Disney’s Nutcracker production took the signature details and ran with them.
As you may know, ETA Hoffmann’s original Nutcracker story was written in Germany in the early 19th Century, making Bavaria a fitting source of inspiration. Further twists were added to give each land a magical atmosphere all of its own.
To create the icicle-encrusted aesthetic that could turn a rustic village into the Land of Snowflakes, the production designer drew on Sweden’s Ice Hotel. Meanwhile, delicious treats awaited on the set of the Land of Sweets.
“They had to put signs that said, ‘Don’t eat the candy,’…I’m like, ‘I want to eat it now that I know that it’s real!’”
Tchaikovsky’s wrote the much-loved ballet in St Petersburg in 1892 (swapping Hoffmann’s lead character Marie for Clara – another nod given by the film), so it’s natural that Russia would provide a setting, if not a filming location. The palace is full of references to St Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow’s Red Square, not least its exterior.
“There’s a strong Russian historical context to The Nutcracker… The child in me looked at some of those gorgeous Russian buildings with all their bright colors and onion-topped towers, and I realized very quickly what I was looking at were heaps of candy and flowers.”
Guy Hendrix Dyas