This is a funny and spectacular story about a cute Neverland where just tiny folks live! The story is based on the over the 50 years Bestseller book, which became so popular in Russia and Eastern Europe.
Soyuzmultfilm have been responsible for animations that a vast majority of the time have ranged from very good to outstanding, E.T.A Hoffmann's story is timeless and actually even darker than it's usually portrayed as and Tchaikovsky's music is some of the best of the ballet genre.
Soyuzmultfilm's version of The Nutcracker, named Shchelkunchik, is one of my personal favourites from the studio. It's one of their most enchanting and really connected with me emotionally, while Soyuzmultfilm's animations are emotionally engaging very few are as much as Shchelkunchik. The animation is just fabulous, the character designs have their own charm if not having the same amount of detail as had gone into the backgrounds. With the backgrounds in the second half, the standout being that in the sequence with all those sparkling shapes accompanied by the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy dance, if there is any Soyuzmultfilm animation with more magical-looking backgrounds I've yet to see it(even those in their version of Beauty and the Beast, 1952's Alenkiy Tsvetochek, are not as so). The colours are very rich and elegant, and darkly foreboding when needed.
Musically Shchelkunchik, all by Tchaikovsky, is a stunner. While it's Nutcracker-dominated, the use of Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty were more than welcome. It's beautifully performed with not one questionable tempo, the violin solo in the Swan Lake Russian Dance was played with such beauty of tone and melancholic grace, with plenty of tense power and poetic nuances. The music used is not used in its entirety, in snippet form with cuts which may be a shame for some but actually it does not cheapen the music at all and almost all of it is placed very appropriately, the Swan Lake Russian Dance(that was such a charmingly beautiful sequence), Nutcracker Pas De Deux and Waltz of the Flowers being particularly effective. The Sleeping Beauty Carabosse scenes enhanced the tension of Nutcracker's back-story very well and while I would have preferred the Nutcracker Battle music for the climax the mix of the Carabosse music and the Swan Lake climatic music fitted excellently in mood and how it matched with the visuals. Only one music placement was questionable, which was the use of the Chinese Dance when we first see the mice at the start of the climax. It's a suspenseful scene and the Chinese Dance's music is quite light-hearted, it juxtaposed a little too much mood-wise.
There's no dialogue or voice-acting, a wise move as the animation and music did all the talking and did amazingly at that. Narratively, details-wise it is somewhat loosely based on the Hoffmann story, though Nutcracker's back-story did seem initially inspired by the Princess Pirlipat plot-line and it does include the Mouse King having more than one head(though three here instead of seven in the story). But the spirit of the original story is maintained if not as dark, and it is very loyal in narrative structure to Tchaikovsky's ballet story-wise(the discovery of the Nutcracker, the mistreatment of him, the battle, the Nutcracker's/Prince's gratefulness for the chamber maid saving him and the return to the kingdom). There's differences(a chamber maid instead of Clara, no Sugar Plum Fairy, no Drosselmeyer), but it was really nice to have the back-story for the Nutcracker/Prince with how he came to be the Nutcracker making it easier to relate to him, the original story has a back-story but a different one but the ballet doesn't. This said instead of being an adaptation of just the original story or just the ballet elements of both are incorporated and beautifully. It's a magical, timeless story with plenty of charm and emotional impact, and magical, timeless, charming and emotionally charged it was in Shchelkunchik.
When it comes to the characters the chamber maid and the Nutcracker were very easy to relate to and they had great chemistry together, while the Mouse Queen and King were suitably sinister villains. All in all, truly enchanting, a visual and musical wonder brilliantly told. 10/10 Bethany Cox
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