Piotr Tchaikovky must be spinning in his grave! Russian director Andrei Kanchalovsky’s variation on E.T.A. Hoffman’s “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” is one of the most wretched extravaganzas ever mounted on the big screen.
Set in Vienna in the 1920s, the story begins as nine-year-old Mary’s (Elle Fanning) parents (Richard E. Grant, Yulia Visotskaya) are off to a party, leaving her and her bratty brother Max (Aaron Michael Drozin) in the care of eccentric Uncle Albert Einstein (Nathan Lane), who sings “It’s All Relative” (about the theory of relativity) to the melodic strains of “The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” and gives Mary a nutcracker that resembles Pinocchio. In Mary’s imagination on Christmas night, the wooden toy comes to life, calling himself NC (Charlie Rowe/voiced by Shirley Henderson) and explaining he’s a cursed, banished prince. Suddenly, other Christmas toys, like Tinker the clown, Gielgud the talking chimpanzee and Sticks the drummer, come to life too. But there’s a fly in the ointment – or a rodent, to be specific. This Nazified kingdom is ruled by the flamboyant, Hitler-like Rat King (John Turturro) and his devious Rat Queen mother (Frances de la Tour), who burn toys to create smoke clouds that block out the sun. When NC is captured, Mary and her friends must rescue him and foil the Rat King’s wicked plans to ‘rat-ify’ the world..
Not only is there no ballet but the incompatible, often inaudible lyrics were written by Oscar-winner Tim Rice (“Aladdin,” “The Lion King”) and Edward Artemiev. Writer Chris Solimine and director Konchalovsky (“Runaway Train,” “Tango and Cash”) toss in far too many grim, symbolic remnants of the Holocaust and the inappropriate dialogue includes Uncle Albert’s rebuke, “I would tell you, but then I’d have to kill you.” Plus, the muddy-looking post-production 3-D conversion adds nothing.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Nutcracker 3-D” is a nightmarish 2. If you have any yearning to see Tchaikovsky’s beloved, timeless fable, forget this stale schnitzel and go to a performance at any local dance company.