I'm aggravated...I typed a full two paragraphs for this blog entry today and then it was all erased when I tried to save it and was informed that I had been somehow logged off from another location. So here I am starting over again and in a way, that kinda makes sense for this post. In 1986, a film version of one of the most popular Christmas ballets was made and released theatrically to lackluster reviews and poor box office performance. It took 7 years for another producer to take the bold step of adapting the ballet for film again so, like this blog, it became a do-over. So without further ado, let's take a second chance on The Nutcracker.
It is Christmas eve and the household is bustling with activity. The servants have locked the main ballroom off from the rest of the house and are busily putting directions on the walls, on the tree, and preparing for the big annual Christmas party that evening. Marie and Fritz, the children of the house, are all a-tizzy trying to get a glimpse of the room before the guests arrive. Finally, the party begins and the house is filled with music, dancing, and liveliness. The fun increases when Uncle Drosselmeier and his Nephew arrive and begin passing out toys. Fritz is given a toy horse to ride on and Marie is given a fancy, hand-carved Nutcracker. The Nutcracker begins getting more attention than Fritz's horse so Fritz destroys it out of spite. After fixing it with a handkerchief, Drosselmeier places the toy into a little toy bed to rest and the children are sent off to bed. Unable to sleep, Marie creeps downstairs where she finds the Christmas tree and the presents under seige by mice! To add insult to injury, Marie begins to shrink down to mouse size and finds herself terrorized by the mice. Luckily, her Nutcracker comes to life and fights for her honor. Once he is victorious, he takes her on a magical journey to the kingdom of sweets to meet the Sugar Plum Fairy.
While the first theatrical Nutcracker film focused on the popular Pacific Northwest Ballet, this version was based on George Balanchine's famed New York City production that has be come a yearly tradition for many. The producers must have felt that using the basis of an already popular production was a sure fire win for them...sadly that is not the case. The '86 version's shortcomings aside, it was miles more entertaining than this version. One of the problems with turning the Balanchine version into a film is that you take it, warts and all. This production was choreographed a little easier so that more children could take part and play the pivotal roles, such as the Nutcracker and Marie. This means that the dancing isn't nearly as spectacular as we expect for a film production, where money is no object and so the best talent can be brought in. It seems a shame too, when other productions are much more challenging and feature more show stopping moves. The production design is also without much style or uniqueness and seems less like a film and more like a stage production that has been filmed, taking some of the pop out of visuals that no doubt looked fantastic on stage. There's no distinctiveness to it and it seems almost generic. I'll admit that for the first time since I was very young, I fell asleep during this ballet and that is not a good sign. The '86 production is much more distinctive and lively and makes for a better film, and it's a pity that it is not available on DVD and this one is. Ah well, at least this dull version can do one thing...it can encourage people to go and see a live production on stage.