tek's rating: ½

The Nutcracker: The Untold Story (PG)
Christmas Specials Wiki; IMDb; Rotten Tomatoes; Showtime; TV Tropes; Universal; Wikipedia
streaming sites: none that I know of

Caution: spoilers, I guess.

This came out in 2010 (in the U.S.), released in theaters under the title The Nutcracker in 3D. It was almost universally panned by most critics, but of course I always like to make up my own mind about things. I kind of thought I'd wait til I might have a chance to see it in 3D, on Blu-ray or something, but I ended up not doing that. I guess I had the 2D DVD on my Amazon wishlist, which is supposed to be just to remind me of things I want to get. But sometimes people end up buying me things off the list, so I received it for Christmas 2015. Watching the DVD (which is retitled "The Nutcracker: The Untold Story"), I saw a few things that were pretty obviously meant to be 3D, and probably a lot of other stuff that didn't particularly strike me as such was also 3D in the theatrical version, but... the DVD looked fine to me. I thought the special effects were reasonably good in 2D. So, we're left to focus on other things, like the story, the music, and the acting. Well, first of all, the movie's music is sort of based on Tchaikovsky's 1892 ballet, and the story is sort of based on E.T.A. Hoffmann's 1816 story "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King," which was also the basis of the ballet. (Coincidentally, I had read that story earlier in December 2015.) The music from the ballet was updated with new lyrics by Tim Rice, who normally does good work, but this... meh, I dunno. Not great. As for the story... well, that's harder to say. (And as for the acting, I reckon everyone did the best they could with the material they were given.)

Okay, the story is actually quite different, here. The basic premise is the same, in that a couple of kids (here named Mary and Max, rather than Marie and Fritz, in the original) receive a mechanical dollhouse from their uncle Albert (rather than their godfather, Drosselmeyer, in the original), as a Christmas present. One of the biggest divergences from the original story is that Albert (Nathan Lane) is apparently Albert Einstein. (Though honestly, I could well imagine Einstein being quite similar to Drosselmeyer, in some respects.) Anyway, Max and Mary's parents go out for the evening, leaving Albert to look after them. (There's also a housekeeper or governess or something, named Frau Eva, though she doesn't seem to like her job.) Albert also gives the kids a toy nutcracker (called N.C.), which Max breaks. But Albert fixes it. Later, Mary (Elle Fanning) apparently dreams that N.C. comes to life, and grows into a wooden boy about her own size. He takes her into her living room, which has apparently become gigantic (or else the two of them have shrunk to doll size). Also the roof has vanished, and the Christmas tree now extends far into the sky. N.C. introduces Mary to the dolls in the dollhouse, who have also come to life. There's an anthropomorphic chimpanzee named Gielgud, a clown named Tinker, and a drummer named Sticks. He then takes Mary in a sort of gondola that goes up the tree, and introduces her to the Snow Fairy (who looks like her mother). And we learn that N.C. is actually a prince, who had been turned into a nutcracker by a rat witch (who looks like Frau Eva), who is the mother of the Rat King (John Turturro). Suddenly, the spell is broken, and N.C. turns into a human boy. (It seemed to me that Mary broke the spell, but later I got the impression it had been broken by the Snow Fairy.)

Anyway... the Rat King and his army of anthropomorphic rats had taken over the prince's city, some time earlier. And the army have a sort of steampunk Nazi vibe, so I was expecting the Rat King to be kind of based on Hitler. But he wasn't. He actually reminded me of Andy Warhol, and I'm fairly sure he was meant to. So that was really weird. Anyway, a couple of spies with jetpacks see the prince turn human again, and go to inform the Rat King. He immediately gets his mother to redo the curse, which she doesn't even need to be near the prince to do. So he turns back into his wooden self. We also see an underground factory where the rats' human prisoners work. The rat army force human children to give up their toys, which adult human prisoners are forced to burn in the factory, to fuel a giant cloud that blocks the sun above the city, because I guess the Rat King would lose his power in the sunlight. Or something. (Obviously, none of this is at all like the original story or the ballet.) Anyway... I'm already forgetting the order in which everything happens, but at some point Mary wakes up. The living room has returned to normal, but the tree has been knocked over, for which her parents blame her. Naturally, they don't believe her story about N.C. or anything. (There is some mention of Freud, whose theories of child psychology apparently Mary's mother believes in, though her father thinks he's a quack.)

Mary is quite upset about not being believed, but goes back to sleep (assuming all this is a dream, which is never really clear). She and N.C. plan to retake his city from the Rat King, with some help from Gielgud, Tinker, and Sticks, I guess. And Max finds out that this is all real (or at least a version of Max in Mary's dream), and he wants to help, too, but then he gets taken by the Rat King. He actually seems to side with the Rat King, for a little while, until he realizes he's evil. And um... yeah, I've just forgotten so much (I had to wait a few days to write this review, since our internet was out). But a lot of stuff happens, including the fact that Mary again breaks the spell on N.C. (or rather, I get the impression this is the first time she did it, which surprised me, but this is why I came to retroactively gather that the spell was broken the first time by the Snow Fairy, despite the fact that it wasn't broken until Mary touched his hand.) The prince's restoration to human form leads to a worker revolt (which is weird, because it seems to me that they just as easily could have turned against the rats at any time with or without N.C.) Anyway, eventually the good guys win, and Mary wakes up, and her father has had a change of heart (because of some weird song Albert sang about a pebble). So... it's a predictably happy ending.

And... I liked it. I mean, I don't think I really liked any of the songs, but I enjoyed the story because it was so weird. (So I'm going to list this movie under both "holiday" and "weird.") I probably liked it more while I was watching it than I do now, looking back as I write this review. If I'd written the review right after watching it, I might have even rated it slightly higher, though that was probably at least partly because I was drinking at the time. At any rate, I don't think the movie deserves to be as reviled as it is, although I admit that most critics and audiences want it to be something other than what it is. I imagine they want it to be a much more traditional interpretation of the story, and that's fair enough. On that count, the movie is pretty terrible. But if you try to look at it as something intentionally bizarre, I think it works on that level. (It's still not really good, but at least it's sort of fun.)

holiday index
weird index