Film Review: The Nutcracker 3D by Chris Welch


Starring Elle Fanning, Charlie Rowe, Nathan Lane, John Turturro, Yulia Vysotskaya, Frances De La Tour, Richard Grant, and Aaron Michael Drozin.

Directed by Andrey Konchalovskiy

Released by Cinemarket Films.

Review by Chris Welch

When most people hear the title The Nutcracker, they almost always think of the ballet performances and accompanying music written by Tchaikovsky. This is, of course, a reasonable conclusion given the popularity of the ballet and its music. But Tchaikovsky did not originate The Nutcracker.

The original fictional story was entitled “The Nutcracker and Mouse King,” and was written by German Romantic author and opera composer E.T.A. Hoffman in 1816. The original story is a complex and long-winded fantasy tale. In short, a young girl is given a Nutcracker and doll house for Christmas; the toys come alive, and together, they defeat the evil, seven-headed Mouse King and an army of mouse minions, and the girl is taken away to become a queen in the land of toys. Along the way, there are sword battles, long journeys, and curses to be broken.

Hoffman’s only other famous work is a horror story, also from 1816, called “The Sandman.” Most of his other works have been lost over the last two centuries. Hoffman had addiction issues and suffered from mental illness, and most of his contemporaries held a very low opinion of his creations.

However, Tchaikovsky’s ballet is based on a translation by literary figure Alexander Dumas. The ballet was first performed in 1892 in St. Petersburg, Russia. The rest, as they say, is history. The ballet has become a seasonal tradition and there have been many film adaptations of the Napoleonic shell-smasher as well.

Which brings us to The Nutcracker 3-D.

This movie attempts to blend both the music from the ballet with an updated, more metaphorical interpretation of Hoffman’s original material. The result is a weird, anachronistic blend of family-friendly holiday musical-fantasy with steampunk military dystopia.

Set in 1920’s Vienna, the story focuses on nine year old Mary and her younger brother Max.

On Christmas Eve, Mary is given a wooden nutcracker doll by her Uncle Albert (who is likely Albert Einstein.) That night — in what may or may not be Mary’s dream — the Nutcracker comes to life. It turns out the Nutcracker, who prefers to be called “NC,” is actually a cursed prince, and Mary is the only person who can save him. But duty comes first, and NC rallies an eclectic group of dolls to strike back at the Rat King, who has taken over NC’s homeland. The Rat King hates daylight, and he has blocked out the sun over NC’s kingdom with thick clouds by constantly burning children’s toys. Mary and NC set out to win back the kingdom and to restore NC to his human form. This won’t be easy of course, as they face a whole army of Nazi-like rodents armed with both machine-gun equipped motorcycles and jet-packs. Yes…jet-packs. And don’t forget the musical numbers to move the plot forward.

Ultimately, the movie has not decided what it wants to be: a Christmas musical, an anti-fascist fairy tale, or a science-fiction adventure. It tries to be all three, and thus the film comes across as a schizophrenic.

Now having said that, it is likely children between the ages of 6 and 14 will really like this movie. There is enough magic, adventure, comic wit, and music to hold their attention. The movie is entirely age-appropriate; all the violence is of the cartoonish fantasy variety. The movie has positive messages such as gender equality, self-confidence, good will conquer evil, and that ultimately reality can be just as fun as fantasy. Overall, as a holiday movie aimed at youngsters, this film holds up pretty well. Kids will only see how weird it is when they grow up.

However, the best way to explain The Nutcracker 3-D to adults is this: It’s sort of like Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin Stories and Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas having tea with Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. Throw in some allusions to Pink Floyd’s The Wall, Babes in Toyland, Planet of the Apes, and Beowulf and you get the sense how off-kilter this film can be. Maybe “spot the allusion” can be a new drinking game?

According to published reports, the film was not originally filmed in 3-D, but was converted in post-production. The technical quality of the 3-D in this film is very good, considering it was an after-thought by the studio.

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