So closely associated are ETA Hoffmann’s 1816 story “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” and everybody’s favorite 1892 Tchaikovsky ballet, it is downright shocking to find almost no dancing — except for an abstract motion-capture sequence — in Andrey Konchalovskiy’s 2010 “The Nutcracker in 3D.”
There are no mice in the film either.
Instead, there is a horde of nasty, human-size rats, led by John Turturro as the vicious Rat King and Nathan Lane as Drosselmeyer. Turturro sounds like somebody out of “Jersey Shore” and Lane’s accent is exaggerated, inauthentic “Viennese” — the twain shall not meet.
When it comes to the music, there are snippets from Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker,” but mostly excerpts from his fifth and sixth symphonies.
A big musical moment comes with the theme from Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1, sung by the workers storming their rat oppressors, with lyrics by Tim Rice of “Evita.”
The Clara character (called Mary in the film, which changes all the well-known names) is Elle Fanning, Dakota’s younger sister. While she is very good, everything else — including the very idea of this convoluted neither-Hoffmann-nor-ballet concoction — is a puzzle wrapped inside an enigma.
Also, Konchalovskiy is responsible for the script of this British-Hungarian co-production. (Why Hungary, I asked the Russian director. His straightforward reply: “It cost $19 million instead of $150 million if we made it in the U.S.” Of course — after adding marketing, advertising, et al. — it is now a $90 million release.)
Konchalovskiy worked on the project for 15 years, finally acquiring funding three years ago. He places the story in 1920s Vienna, where “NC” (that’s what the Nutcracker is called in the film) takes Clara/Mary through a strange, scary world in which rats hatch a plot to conquer humanity by “ratifying” the world. Spoiler alert: Humans win, rescued by Clara/Mary and NC.
Animated and live-action elements are integrated smoothly, but the mixing of themes, lack of focus and awkward realization of some high-minded philosophical points do not add up to a film to recommend.
Oh, and the “3-D” part? It is fair to middling, but there is precious little that justifies wearing those tiresome glasses.
The Nutcracker in 3D ?½
Starring Elle Fanning, Nathan Lane, John Turturro
Written and directed by Andrey Konchalovskiy
Running time 1 hour 50 minutes