Posted: 11/24/2010


The Nutcracker 3D


by Sean Lechowicz

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“The Nutcracker 3D” has the blueprint for success: an interesting director, a dependable cast, a timeless story, and all the gizmos and gadgets Hollywood has to offer. Somehow something went terribly awry, leaving a big boring stain on screen for an hour and a half.

In 1920 Vienna, young Mary (Elle Fanning) receives an early present from her Uncle Einstein (Nathan Lane): a dollhouse equipped with a magical Nutcracker (voice of Shirley Henderson). Mary soon finds out the Nutcracker is really a cursed prince banished by the evil Rat King (John Turturro). The young duo ventures to the Nutcracker’s kingdom in order to restore justice and dethrone the treacherous vermin.

For the majority of the picture, the Nutcracker is a crude CGI creature with a squeaky woman’s voice. Since the prince has been cursed, it’s understandable that he’s given an unflattering voice since his physical attributes have been altered. What isn’t clear is why he’s an absolute jerk to everyone when he’s in this state. When he turns human, it’s implied that he’ll be an absolute peach, but instead he’s just boring and hardly says a meaningful word. Both of his personas are lacking, yet Mary inexplicably adores this guy.

The production design nearly makes this film worthwhile. The Rat King and his army ride on jetpacks and motorcycles with chain guns strapped to their sides. There is a helicopter that actually has mechanical legs that keep it afloat. All of these images appear to come directly from a child’s mind, which is exactly how it should look.

Imagination is certainly in abundance, but this is a case of imagination trumping logic and structure. Throughout the movie, Mary goes back and forth through reality and the Nutcracker’s world. Whenever she wakes up in her own bed, she’s upset and misses her new friend. On paper, these are very sweet scenes, but she hardly ever shares a moment with the Nutcracker where they’re not scheming or arguing.

Director Andrey Konchalovskiy never gives her or the audience any incentive to go back into the dream world. A place with neat jetpacks and flying pirate ships is intriguing, but we need some emotional meat on those bones to keep from getting bored after the eye candy becomes common.

The use of practical makeup effects—specifically with the Rat King and his henchmen—is quite a breath of fresh air. In the age of movie magic lazily achieved by simply pressing buttons on a computer, it’s great to see humans interact with real live mutants instead of a digitization.

Turturro undoubtedly had a blast during the filming, making the Rat King an eccentric and fun villain. Likewise, Lane hams it up as Einstein and gets a few entertaining musical numbers for good measure. He soon gets tiresome after he repeatedly shows up out of nowhere from time to time and addresses the audiences about issues they’re already aware of. These scenes almost seem like a last minute addition, confirming that the filmmakers know how nonsensical the plot is.

The story of “The Nutcracker” has been done to death. Any artist who takes a stab at such cherished material must bring something new to the table other than cool vehicles and a beloved Broadway actor using a German accent.

Sean Lechowicz is a film critic and screenwriter from Chicago, as well as the world’s biggest Wall-E geek

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