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MOVIE REVIEW : Animated ‘Nutcracker’ Stumbles Badly

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Watching “The Nutcracker Prince,” a new Canadian animated feature (citywide) is every bit as much fun as getting underwear for Christmas when you’re 8 years old. A blend of leaden gags, muddled storytelling and Saturday morning-style animation, it’s more a holiday threat than a treat.

Patricia Watson’s script mixes the original E. T. A. Hoffmann story, “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King,” with elements from the popular Tchaikovsky ballet. Clara (voice by Megan Follows) gets the Nutcracker (Kiefer Sutherland) as a Christmas present from “Uncle” Drosselmeier (Peter Boretski) and plays happily until her brother Fritz breaks it. She tends the injured Nutcracker and helps him defeat the armies of the Mouseking (Mike MacDonald, who overacts so shamelessly, he sounds more like a ham than a mouse). To celebrate their victory, they travel to the magical Kingdom of the Dolls.

Executive producer Sheldon Wiseman says he wanted “to illuminate parts of the original story that had not widely been told,” but Watson’s script and Paul Schibli’s direction eliminate both details of characterization and major plot points, obscuring more than they illuminate.

They keep Hoffmann’s fussy fairy-tale-within-a-fairy-tale explanation of how Drosselmeier’s nephew became the Nutcracker, but turn the story into a crashingly unfunny “Fractured Fairy Tale.” (The grating voices and gross humor in this sequence will send any adult foolish enough to try and sit through it racing to the lobby, if not the nearest bar.)

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Clara doesn’t kill the Mouseking with her shoe, as she does in the ballet, nor does the Nutcracker slay him in a duel, as he does in the story, although they both try. The obnoxious rodent comes back from two apparently fatal wounds and only perishes when he falls off a balcony in the enchanted castle. He takes longer to die than Barbara Hershey did in “Beaches.”

The filmmakers waste so much time killing off the Mouseking, there’s little left to explore the wonders of the enchanted Kingdom of the Dolls.

The animation looks flat, stiff and lifeless: The weightless characters seem to slide on the backgrounds when they’re supposed to walk, and their appearance changes from scene to scene. Clara is especially badly designed, with huge eyes, a tiny chin and an awkwardly proportioned body. A scene of her dancing with the prince is embarrassingly inept.

Still, “The Nutcracker Prince” (rated G for general audiences) will undoubtedly find a place in many family holiday celebrations: The prospect of having to sit through it is a much more dire threat to hold over the heads of misbehaving children than a mere stocking full of coal.


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