While a cinematic adaptation of Tchaikovsky’s ballet, The Nutcracker carries a certain appeal, thanks to its fantastical plot and festive Christmas setting this film is one nobody could have envisioned. Written and directed by Russian filmmaker Andrei Konchalovskiy, most famous outside his own country for 1989’s buddy cop actioner Tango & Cash, the film dispenses with any dancing in favour of being a straight musical. Tchaikovsky’s music accompanies lyrics written by Oscar-winner Tim Rice, but these changes form the least of the film’s problems as fans of E.T.A. Hoffmann’s original story “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” also have cause for distress.
Transplanting the action from Germany to 1920s Vienna, the basic story is kept the same: A young girl (Elle Fanning), filled with an imagination that upsets her parents and hounded by a mischievous younger brother (Aaron Michael Drozin) is whisked off on a magical, dreamlike adventure. Her guide is NC, a wooden nutcracker in the shape of a soldier, who comes to life and claims to be a young prince (Charlie Rowe), cursed by the evil Rat Queen (Frances de la Tour).
The Nutcracker‘s biggest strength also proves to be its greatest weakness – in a film rife with ill-conceived ideas and poorly developed characters. The production design is fairly impressive throughout, whether exploring the large family townhouse, or the Prince’s City, suffering under the tyrannical regime of the Rat King (John Turturro). Konchalovskiy was determined to use 3D to bring his CGI characters to life, but regardless of how well his images are presented, it is the imagery itself that truly offends.
In a move that is at once tired, obvious and terribly ill advised, Konchalovskiy portrays the rat army as Nazis, complete with round tin hats, swatika-esque signage and a modus operandi to round up all the world’s toys and burn them. Their grand plan of ethnic cleansing by “ratifying” the general population is as shocking and frightening to adults as it will be to the younger audience members at which the film is clearly aimed. While Konchalovskiy doubtless tries to evoke such timeless classics as Alice in Wonderland, Pinocchio or The Wizard of Oz, there are more effective methods than by evoking the Holocaust.
The Nutcracker first premiered in 2009 and has failed miserably to recoup its large budget anywhere in the world it has played. While it does give audiences the opportunity to see a young Elle Fanning developing her acting talents, the rest of the cast, which includes Nathan Lane, John Turturro and Richard E. Grant can do nothing to save this freakish & disturbing interpretation of such a revered classic piece of literature, music and ballet.