Nutcracker: The Untold Story [Blu-ray]
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Experience the classic holiday tale of the Nutcracker brought to life like you have never seen it before. This all-new film features a highly-acclaimed cast including; Elle Fanning, Nathan Lane, Frances de la Tour and John Turturro. Join Mary on a magical adventure when her toy nutcracker comes to life and whisks her away to a magical kingdom filled with fantastical toys, sugar plums and dancing fairies. Mary soon discovers the evil Rat King is threatening the kingdom and in order to save the Nutcracker, Mary must uncover a hidden secret to free the prince and restore his kingdom. Based on the story that inspired Russian composer Tchaikovsky to create the music for the iconic ballet, the film includes eight new exciting songs written by Oscar®-winning lyricist Tim Rice (The Lion King, Evita).
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To her credit, Miss Fanning bravely obliges the scriptwriter, songwriter and director, but the compassion we feel in watching her is out of embarassment over her being made to say, sing, and act the stuff she did. Nathan Lane glibly phones it in as "Uncle Albert", an Einsteinian character inexplicably replacing Godfather Drosselmeyer of the original story. And while I usually enjoy John Torturro's roles, he seems uneasy and maybe regretful over the script and verse of his Mouse-King, er, Rat-Führer, er, whatever...
Animal Cruelty: vivid but pointless electrocution-killing of a captive shark.
Cheap Allegory: making over Hoffmann's mouse-army into Nazi rat-stormtroopers.
Cheap frights: CGI-enabled overdone transformation of faces into hideous shrieking rat-faces. Jump scares aplenty.
Musical assault and battery: characters break into stage-musical or campy song for no compelling reason. Tchaikovsky brutally rescored, or rearranged into braying parodies of the original classical themes.
Child-Abuse pervo stuff: an 11-year old girl being dragged and pushed around, being compelled to wear torn and disarrayed clothing shot at sleazy camera angles, having to repeatedly mouth lines like "I'm not afraid" when the audience knows she has good reason to be very afraid indeed, as when being threatened with mutilation.
Fanning's Mary seems to have no clearly defined journey, faces no life-altering challenge, and demonstrates no improved attributes by the end, so the movie's a bit farcical. Sure, the parents become more parent-like, and the kid brother a little less annoying, but these should have been side characters, not allowed dramatically to distract from Mary's journey.
Ultimately this is not so much an "untold" version of Hoffmann's Nutcracker, but a disappointing nightmarish makeover. Maybe the Russian director's dog-eared Cold War-era screenplay should have been finally binned instead of actually produced...
Boy, what a big mistake!
This DVD starts out well, with lovely atmosphere, unique musical numbers (written by Oscar-winner Tim Rice), great special effects and solid acting (despite Nathan Lane's perpetually quizzical visage as Albert Einstein and a wooden Frances de le Tour).
My whole family and I were transfixed, especially as the wooden nutcracker (in awesome CGI) and Mary ride an enchanted elevator sleigh up through a humongous towering Christmas tree. We had no idea what would happen next, because this "re-telling" of The Nutcracker had been unpredictable from the beginning (e.g. Einstein replacing Uncle Drosselmeier, Mary's mother being an opera singer about to make her debut in front of important politicians, etc.).
However, once they got into the realm of the Rat King, things start getting dicey--violent and creepy, even.
The Rat King (Turturro) and his minions all have rat faces, resembling Hitler's SS in uniform and demeanor (I can handle that--it makes sense). However, things soon turn violent (beyond capturing citizens of the magical kingdom).
For example, a large shark swims in a gigantic aquarium. He doesn't appear menacing beyond being a shark. The Rat King, as he's threatening the captured citizens with a bizarre musical routine, deliberately drops electrical lights in the aquarium. The poor shark thrashes about, as he's being electrocuted--not for a few seconds, but MANY seconds. It was distressful and disturbing to watch.
My family and I were in shock. Soon after, the Rat Queen (the Rat King's mother) summons Turturro's character. She is unkempt, drunken and barely dressed--wearing fishnet stockings (!). In a creepy Oedipal moment, she urges her son to come closer...and as he bends down for her to tell him a secret, she BITES him (hard and long).
That was it for us!
If you're wanting a magical family Christmas movie, this is NOT the one to get! However, if you revel in "dark", twisted holiday fairytales, you may get your jollies out The Nutcracker: The Untold Story.
-- Janet Boyer, author of lots of stuff