That The Nutcracker 3D lost about $70M at the box-office (ouch!) shouldn't cloud our judgment of it as a film, I feel. Jumping on every bandwagon that comes along is hardly productive so let's take a look at Andrei Konchalovsky's take on Tchaikovsky's ballet (and E.T.A. Hoffman's story) as objectively as we possibly can.
The film seems to want to distance itself from what it's based on as much as possible to allow for new creative input, which is fine because often that can mean that directors can allow their unique style to merge with a familiar story to create something fresh and interesting. Unfortunately what's added here just doesn't make sense with everything else. You've got Albert Einstein in some kind of Geppetto role played, oddly enough, by Nathan Lane who once again gives us a cartoon accent we could have done without (also see The Addams Family musical). You've also got a lot of weird Nazi imagery linked to rats and the Rat King (a terrific John Turturro) who enjoys burning toys in his "smoke factory" while people either slave for him or become rats themselves. I could see how shoving in concentration camps into that story could piss off quite a few people. I mean, it's not like the movie earned that kind of licence or the imagery fits in well with the source material. Personally, I found it to be a misstep, for sure, but I was more weirded-out than anything else.
So, ok, the rats are nazis...
If like me you don't get it, ask Freud, he's in the movie too for some reason.
The film itself looks mostly fine although visually it's pretty messy also. Occasionally the CGI has that over-smooth quality it tends to have where you feel something or someone isn't quite there and it kinda turns into "Nutcracker On Ice" at one point with people in snowman costumes ice-skating around the top of a Christmas tree.
Still trying to figure that one out...
Otherwise the film looks decent. It goes for a steampunk feel and that effect on the Rat King's face when he loses it is honestly terrifying. Kids will probably cry, you have been warned. That's the thing, when it comes to the rats, this movie gets pretty mean-spirited and it kinda goes all-out. Almost mindlessly so. Which is why it gets a bit difficult to make that stuff gel with the more kid-friendly stuff, like when someone just bursts into song out of nowhere. Another thing that doesn't quite work, as you can imagine. The songs, which are sung over Tchaikovsky's music, never feel necessary and don't really add anything to the scenes they're a part of. That bizarre Rat King dance number can certainly rest proudly next to that scary tunnel scene from Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory as one of the best what-the-f*** moments in any kids movie. Well, when I say "kids movie" I mean that very lightly, any movie which has a scene in which John Turturro literally rips out a child's head before bouncing it on the ground like a basketball is hardly for kids.
Ok it's a toy but still!
I still have nightmares about that one...
So yeah, The Nutcracker 3D has MORE than its share of problems: its direction is at times clunky, it makes some odd choices, some of them very clumsy, visually it's hit-and-miss and as a whole it is a bit of a mess. I will say though, in its defense, it is creative and is nowhere near as bad as the majority of critics have claimed. The reviews have been rather harsh on this one, now I didn't see it in 3D but I hear it was particularly awful. Frankly, I sat through the entirety of Sex And Zen in 3D and trust me when I say that any 3D after that is bliss.
Unless it's in high frame rate.
The Nutcracker 3D is indeed a missed opportunity to bring the classic ballet to life in all its glory and as its own thing it's really hard to know what to make of it. It's extremely flawed and yet I didn't have too much of a bad time watching it. The good stuff was pretty good, Elle Fanning gives a top performance, Turturro and Frances De La Tour make a fantastic Rat King and Queen (I mean this in the best possible way), there are some pleasing visuals, some of the steampunk stuff is cool and it's an involving enough fantasy flick, despite all the tiresome whimsy and all that yawn-worthy stuff about "if you believe it, it's real".
(for the record: if you believe it, it's most likely NOT real)
You'll either hate it with a passion or simply tolerate it, either way it's certainly an experience you won't forget in a hurry. It's pretty unique, however you look at it.
Man, this is the weirdest thing to happen to Tchaikovsky since Black Swan...