On Christmas Eve, a little girl named Marie (Cohen) falls asleep after a party at her home and dreams herself (or does she?) into a fantastic world where toys become larger than life. Her ... See full summary »
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On Christmas Eve, a little girl named Marie (Cohen) falls asleep after a party at her home and dreams herself (or does she?) into a fantastic world where toys become larger than life. Her beloved Nutcracker (Culkin) comes to life and defends her from the Mouse King, then is turned into a Prince after Marie saves his life. Written by
This version of the ballet, an adaptation of the famous George Balanchine staging presented annually in New York City, is the only well-known American production of "The Nutcracker" to use children in the roles of Marie (known as Clara in most versions) and the Nutcracker/Prince, so the roles are not choreographed to be as technically demanding as in other productions of the ballet. The original 1892 Russian production also used children. Several other productions, including the recent Helgi Tomasson one for the San Francisco Ballet, have taken their cue from Balanchine and cast a little girl in the role of Clara, but in the Tomasson version, Clara is magically transformed into an adult in Act II so that she can dance the pas de deux with the Prince (danced in the Tomasson production by an adult). Many other productions (especially Russian ones) now cast adults as the Nutcracker/Prince and the girl, usually known as Clara rather than Marie, so that there is an adult love interest between the couple. See more »
In the opening credits, Macaulay Culkin is listed as playing Drosselmayer's nephew, but he is not listed as playing either The Nutcracker or The Prince. See more »
As excellent and accurate a film of the Balanchine production as could be made, despite Macaulay Culkin
Those who have given this production such a low rating probably have never seen the celebrated George Balanchine production live onstage, or are letting their disdain for the star casting of Macaulay Culkin influence their judgement. The Atlanta Ballet was fortunate enough, from the 1960's to the 1980's, to be the first ballet company authorized to stage this production other than the New York City Ballet, and I have seen it live onstage several times. I can assure readers that the film is a quite accurate rendering of this production, and that the use of a child with limited dancing abilities in the title role is not a cheap stunt dreamed up to showcase Culkin; it was Balanchine's idea to use a child in this role, just as it was his idea to use a child for the role of Marie. The "heavy" dancing is left to the adults in the story.
This is deliberately a stagebound film; in a way, it resembles Laurence Olivier's "Othello". Exactly as in that film, the sets of the stage production have been enlarged to the size of a movie soundstage, but not made any less artificial, and the ballet is straightforwardly photographed with discreet closeups, and without the distracting "music video" quick cuts featured in the 1986 overrated Maurice Sendak-Carroll Ballard version. There are only two false steps in this 1993 film. One is the addition of distracting and completely unnecessary sound effects (mouse squeaks, the children whispering "Ma-gic!" to Drosselmeyer,etc.). Those sound effects are never heard in any stage production of any "Nutcracker", and they have been put in as a cheap concession simply to appease unsophisticated audiences who may not relish the idea of watching a ballet on film.
The other false step is Macaulay Culkin's nutcracker make-up, which looks absolutely ridiculous. When he is on screen as the Nutcracker, rather than wearing a huge mask (as is always done when the Balanchine production is performed onstage), Culkin is actually made up as the toy
he wears what looks like a bald cap, as well as a white wig,
whiskers, and a beard. He also has his face rouged up somewhat, and the worst aspect of his make-up is that it is still recognizably his face, amateurishly transformed in a manner similar to Ray Bolger, Jack Haley and Bert Lahr's makeups in "The Wizard of Oz" (that film's makeup results though, worked spectacularly, as this one's does not). And a comparison with Baryshnikov's nutcracker in *his* production shows how wonderfully creative Baryshnikov's nutcracker mask was - the "jaws" actually seemed to move whenever Baryshnikov tilted his head back.
The dancing itself in the Macaulay Culkin version is excellent, of course, except for Culkin himself, whose dancing, as I said, isn't meant to even be spectacular. (The Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier are the prominent dancing roles in Balanchine's production of "The Nutcracker".) The film's colors, though, could be a bit brighter since this IS a fantasy. The choreography is also brilliant, and the adaptation of it is so faithful as to include the sequence that features additional music from Tchaikovsky's ballet "The Sleeping Beauty" - as Marie sneaks downstairs, falls asleep on the sofa, and dreams that Drosselmeyer is "repairing" the broken Nutcracker (this sequence was, of course, never included in Tchaikovsky's original ballet---it is the only sequence in this production which features music from a work other than "The Nutcracker").
Those who have missed out on this film, or those who despise (or loathe it) should give it a chance, despite its two big drawbacks. It is far better than it seems when one first hears that Culkin is in it.
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