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It is a tale that has been told many times in many ways but this holiday it takes on new breath. This is not your grandparents or for that matter your parents Nutcracker. Andrei Knonchalovskiy (Tango & Cash, The Inner Circle) has brought this time old tale to a new generation. Abound with joy for the holidays; venture on a whirlwind of imagination and a twist to the classic of E.T.A Hoffman and the music of Tchaikovsky.
Andrei steps back into main stream movie making with a holiday classic. The twist is celebrated lyricist Sir Tim Rice penning 8 new songs for the film, including the new song “My Secret World”. Along with Elle Fanning (Astro Boy, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) as the young daughter Mary, full of imagination and wonder, Uncle Albert played by the incomparable Nathan Lane (Swing Vote, The Producers), and John Turturro (Transformers, Miracle at St. Anna) as the sniveling and conniving Rat King.
Step back to 1920’s Vienne on Christmas Eve. Young Mary and her brother Max (Aaron Michael Drozin) are excited to see their eclectic Uncle Albert (Lane), Albert Einstein whom is late as usual. Their over baring father (Richard E. Grant) is frantic Uncle Albert is late as their eccentric mother (Yuliya Vysotskaya) is to perform for the Royal Opera. Mary shows her displeasure in the family not being together for this special holiday and is comforted by Uncle Albert by the gifts he has brought. One toy stands out, the nutcracker, to which Mary finds extraordinary. To her fancy and imagination she brings the nutcracker to life only to find out he is a The Prince (Charlie Rowe) who has been put under a spell by the Rat King’s (Turturro) mother the Rat Queen (Frances de la Tour). NC, as he likes to be called, Mary, Max and the other toys Uncle Albert gave them set out on a journey to help The Prince overthrow the Rat King’s plot to make everyone become ‘rats’.
The biggest factor in this new telling is Andrei jumping on the bandwagon and making this film in 3D. It has its moments of grandeur but I feel it would be just as good in the regular 2D format. What truly stands out in this film version is the addition of the words Rice has put to such iconic and beloved music as ‘Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy’s’ and ‘March’. Rice along with Eduard Artemiev has created music that hones in on the passion of Tchaikovsky’s brilliance. I know the purists out there may have a field day with their feeling that Tchaikovsky’s music is sacred and should not be touched but when you hear Lane singing ‘Relativity’ it is quite odd at first, than the words pulsate and become fun and catchy as his singing intoxicates the children and servants. Later in the film, while listening to Fanning sing her heart out in ‘My Secret World’ you are drawn into imagination of Mary and again feel the power words can have on ones thoughts.
Imagination takes the main stage in this film but I cannot hold back in that some ideas were held short of their goal. When it comes to the effects of the film some scenes falter, one such scene is Mary dancing with the snow fairies. With so many advancements in CGI, the scene looks rushed in its animation as you are barely able to make out the figures of the fairies. Then when Mary starts to dance with them, it becomes more obvious time was not spent more on the visual and comes across almost amateurish in its final presentation.
Andrei has been directing for a long time and is very experienced working in vast worlds and with a wide range of actors, so it comes quite a surprise when he takes an unusual vision in this adaptation. His view of the rats as ‘Nazis’ is quite a shock when they first appear on screen and might offend many who see this film. I know this is Andrei taking the more dark aspect of Hoffman’s story and working Tchaikovsky’s music in for the more familiar, but it is still a little alarming. It does get a message across, that tyranny can exist anywhere, just a little hard to swallow and accept when you see these ‘rats’ coming at you wearing a rendition of German WWII uniforms.
The cast does a splendid job with Andrei’s direction and is helped with wonderful costumes designed by Louise Stjernsward. Her vibrant look of the 1920’s, the fantasy of the Christmas tree and the ‘ratified’ land of the Prince truly showcases her talent for reaching in and taking Andrei’s thoughts and present them on the screen. As expressed before the visual effects of the film could have been so much more and this includes some of the physical special effects such as the Rat King’s ‘anger’ face. It comes across very poorly as if they are working on a school project and didn’t spend time truly honing their craft.
Back to the cast; it is full of some of the most seasoned actors out there and allows some new ones to step up. Ella Fanning is quite adorable and in sincere in her portrayal. It is hard to not compare her to the older Fanning, however she stands out and does and admirable job. I can forgive her with the lack of an accent in her speech. Adding the character of Uncle Albert Einstein is an interesting idea but well crafted when you put Nathan Lane in the role. A consummate performer he goes above and beyond in his acting as well as his singing. The only thing I can fault him on is the instances where he is talking directly to the camera. It just translates oddly as it breaks the flow of the film. John Turturro is a pleasure to watch in just about anything he does and this is no exception, his Rat King is deceivingly cute. Even while watching him prance around in song as a tyrannical leader you can’t help but enjoy his performance. Along the travels in the film is a host of well deserving supporting cast that includes Frances de la Tour in the dual role of Frau and the Rat Queen and Richard E. Grant as the father, both of whom play in a major role in the main story.
This film is a delight for the upcoming holiday season. The selection of lyrics to the music may be a little awkward at first but is easily accepted as they do enhance the storyline. Put aside the whole look of the rats and just let Mary, The Prince and their friends take you on a holiday staple.
What really stands out is the message Uncle Albert helps father remember through his interactions with Mary, imagination never goes away. Even though Mary is young and impressionable she knows what is right and wrong, when to be ‘grown up’ when to be a child. That is something we should never lose sight of when we do grow up, it’s okay to play and still be imaginative. She and Uncle Albert remind father that it’s okay to still dream, to be imaginative, to have fun. I can relate in that I had to ‘grow up’ fast, being an only child and having one parent, my mom. My natural father and step dad were in my life, just not on a regular basis. Much like father in the film my step dad was very much a realist and staunch in his way of childrearing. “Don’t do that”, “Why did you”, “What we’re you thinking” still be heard in my head. He had his moments of being imaginative when it came to cars and Disney, something I still hold onto today. My father however and mom were the most imaginative in my life. I get most of my creative aspects by osmosis from my father. Being a fashion designer and owner of his own leather shop he is constantly creating just about anything, something I have always admired about
him. My mom, she’s the pusher, and I mean that with the most sincere and loving way. She has always been my cheerleader and fostered the creativity I have had. Much like Uncle Albert in how he fosters the imagination to grow, my mom would let me go free to go and find any creative outlet I could. She had her moments like the father in the film with reminding me of reality but my imagination was never squelched. Thank you mom, I love you dearly.
Go with your family this holiday season and be a family. Hold each other close and be each other’s cheerleader, mentor, inspiration or whatever you can to allow the joy of the season to take control. Find an afternoon free and go see ‘The Nutcracker 3D’ and enjoy.
Happy Holidays everyone.
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