“Siblings are a gift from above. Treat them sweetly, with kindness and love.”
The Nutcracker Sweet is not a ballet musical. So those looking to indulge in what has by now become a traditional retelling of the story through ballet will need to look elsewhere. Instead, takes the position of retelling E.T.A. Hoffmann’s original story, sticking much closer to it than many other adaptations tend to so I was surprised by that. The general story that anyone familiar with The Nutcracker knows is present. But we’ll provide a quick refresher through detailing The Nutcracker Sweet‘s plot just in case.
Marie (Alicia Silverstone, Angels in Stardust) and her brother Fritz (Karen Strassman, Monster High) are spending Christmas Eve with their family and their godfather Drosselmeyer (Kirk Thornton, Peter Rabbit) gives them a nutcracker doll. The Nutcracker comes to life and battles the Mouse King (Rick Zieff, Bleach). Marie not only witnesses this battle she also participates in it, and afterwards is swept away to The Land of Sweets where the Nutcracker reigns.
Now then this is where most Nutcracker stories diverge. When Marie comes back to her home it’s usually the finale of the piece and can have one of two endings. One is left to the audience to guess whether or not the entire experience was merely a dream. The other is whether the experience is real and Marie actually broke the curse of the Nutcracker when what once was a doll is now a human once more. But like I said The Nutcracker Sweet dances more deeply into the back story, showing us things such as The Mouse King’s origin, how Drosselmeyer came to be involved with the Nutcracker in the first place, as well as how the Nutcracker himself was cursed. There’s a different ending to the piece in the sense that Fritz is more involved than he usually is by far. There are some bits where characters have the soulless eyes of a demon, a battle of mice and men (er, toy soldiers), and an owl with the voice of Ed Asner (Gunsmoke), to name but a few unique elements.
So it’s really no secret I’m a fan of pretty much every adaptation of The Nutcracker I’ve ever seen, and while I will tentatively say that I liked this version, it’s definitely not one I’m going to be going back to over and over again. That’s mainly because of one thing: the animation of the mouths doesn’t match up with the words being spoken. The target audience will probably not even register this while I found it to be a pretty huge distraction that I could not get past. I definitely enjoyed looking deeper into the story of The Nutcracker, I didn’t mind that this was not a ballet, and I thought some of the animation, particularly the backgrounds of some scenes and the pink river, was rendered well.
However, the one element which pushes me to recommend this is one of the special features included. We have an entire Children’s Ballet Nutcracker ballet performance. Clocking in at just over an hour and a half this ballet performance is longer than The Nutcracker Sweet and as such offers that ballet retelling people may be looking for when they pick this up in the first place. So although it’s not an animated ballet retelling you do get the best of both worlds with this disc. On the one hand you have a richer back story and more character development than usually occurs in a Nutcracker adaptation and on the other hand you have talented kids performing the traditional Nutcracker ballet featuring Tchaikovsky’s now classic music.
The technical specs have been touched on just a bit earlier. While I do enjoy the animation comprising the 1.78:1 transfer it’s on an aesthetic not practical basis. The colors are nice with the hues varying in their saturation levels. There are some differing textures showcased as well which I like. The audio needs to make sure Tchaikovsky’s music is front and center and the Dolby Digital 5.1 track definitely makes sure the titular track and its brethren fill the soundscape. While I took issue with the lack of cohesion between the characters’ voices and their animation I definitely had no trouble hearing them. Overall both elements of the technical specs are well rendered and blended, just maybe not practically executed in the best way.
In terms of special features, I already mentioned one but there are more. Not only do we have interviews with the voice actors we also have video footage of their recording sessions, which is a neat behind-the-scenes feature more animated films would do well to include. Definitely more in the special features department than I anticipated.