Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Color By Number

Chapter 6 has released their sixth album! I expected to buy it myself, but I got it for Christmas. It's almost three years since I reviewed their last album, which I said was "more adult, mature" than their previous albums. (Which I have not reviewed.)

Like With the Windows Down, Color By Number is in a digipak but this time, there is a picture of the group on the front. It unfolds to the group logo, as well as other photos of the band running along the liner notes (lyrics are included only for the original songs). And I gotta remark, for an album entitled Color By Number, it's not a very colorful cover. Ah, well. Let's look at the tracks now.
  • "Intro" - The band warms up and sings the word "Intro." And it sets the tone for the album. We're not going to be quite as mature as the last album.
  • "Rainbow Connection" - A.D. Stonecipher leads the band in an energetic, jazzy rendition of the song made famous by Kermit the Frog. I liked it, and if fact, found myself listening to it again shortly after my listen.
  • "Reverb" - A.D. leads the band again in a parody of the song "Fever." I saw a live performance of it five years ago. They mentioned it was inspired by a visit to a concert where they felt poor vocals were masked by synthesized echoes. So, the song parodies that by using a lot of reverb on the vocals, and in one part, A.D. is literally singing with himself, or rather, his echo. It's a humorous song that is quite wonderful.
  • "Harold's House of Jazz" - I believe John Musick leads this cover, which is jazzy and energetic.
  • "Interlude I, I Dream of Jeannie" - The famous I Dream of Jeannie theme song extended by the melody from the show. (Yes, I did watch the entire series again earlier this year.) Done with human voices only. Kind of random!
  • "Penny Lane" - A charming and well done Beatles cover! I think Luke Menard leads.
  • "Pure Imagination" - Chuck Bosworth leads the band in a whimsical, whistling take on the popular song from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Their take makes me think of how easy it is to lose your imaginative outlook on life when you become an adult and how precious it is if you can retain it.
  • "James Bond Meets The Sugar Plum Fairy" - The band vocally harmonizes the James Bond theme along with "The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" from Tchaikovsky's score of The Nutcracker ballet. Does it work... Yes. Weird!
  • "Interlude II, I'm Looking It Up Online" - This is a quick little original song about how easy it is to look for information online, comparing it to finding someone to ask your question to and mailing a letter to them. Internet, here is your Chapter 6 tribute.
  • "Let's Stay Together" - A cover of the Al Green song, a solemn harmonic take with all members singing at once.
  • "Left Handers Unite!" - I do believe this is Mark Grizzard singing an original song about people who are left-handed. It's actually pretty catchy...
  • "Interlude III, Invention" - Another Grizzard original, this is a lyric-less piece that's beautiful in it's own peaceful way.
  • "Fairest Lord Jesus" - The only Christian track on the album, an energetic yet reverent take on the hymn.
  • "Rhapsody in Blue" - The Gershwin melody seems to be possibly too big for just the guys' vocal chords and they are assisted by a piano. It works well!
Overall, a great album, and a nice return to the form that was seen in Swing Shift, Chapter 6 Live, and A Cappella 101. (Not that With the Windows Down was bad, it was just different. See above linked review.) Here's hoping for another album eventually.

The Adventures of Tintin - Review

There once was a Belgian man named Georges Prosper Remi who, under the pen name of Hergé, wrote and drew comic adventures of a boy reporter named Tintin and his dog Snowy. The series ran for many years and was collected into graphic novel-style "albums." (The actual "graphic novel" idea didn't come around until years later, so these were the forerunners of it.) These albums have since been translated into many languages around the world and sold well.

Over the years, Tintin was adapted for film as a stop-motion animated film, two live action films, two different animated television shows, and some animated films.

In the early 1980s, Steven Spielberg was given the blessing to make a Tintin film by Hergé himself. Now, almost 30 years later, the film has finally arrived.

The Adventures of Tintin is animated with motion capture. The characters are CG, looking like actual people, but with exaggerated features based on their original comic appearances.

The story is based on three of Hergé's albums: The Crab With The Golden Claws, The Secret of the Unicorn, and Red Rackham's Treasure. The first draft of the script was by current Doctor Who showrunner Steven Moffat, and it was later revised by Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish. (Moffat dropped out because he was offered Who.)

The music is by John Williams, and while it helps the film flow well, the score isn't very memorable.

The story finds Tintin buying a model ship in an open-air market. It's based on the ship The Unicorn, and Tintin is surprised when two men offer to buy it from him. Taking it home, his dog, Snowy, and a wandering cat accidentally damage the ship.

Tintin goes to research The Unicorn and discovers it was a cargo ship captained by a Sir Francis Haddock, and it was said to have had a secret cargo. It was boarded by pirates and sunk one night, the only survivor being Sir Francis.

Tintin returns home to find his ship missing. He goes after one of the men who tried to buy it from him, and finds a model of The Unicorn in Mr. Sakharine's possession, but it's not broken. Returning home again, Tintin's home has been ransacked. He goes downstairs where the other man who tried to buy the ship tries to warn him about something but is shot before he can do anything.

Enter detectives Thompson and Thomson, who look almost identical (Thompson has a flared moustache). The bumbling detectives are on the case of a pickpocket who manages to steal Tintin's wallet which contains a scroll that fell out of The Unicorn model when it broke and was unnoticed by the thieves. Going back home, Tintin is suddenly kidnapped and taken aboard The Karaboudjan, a ship Sakharine has chartered to go to the port of Bagghar in Morocco.

Escaping his prison (with help from stowaway Snowy), Tintin meets the drunk captain, Archibald Haddock. He reveals he is the last of the Haddock line, descended from Sir Francis, who he knows he doesn't live up to.

Now, all Tintin, Snowy, and Captain Haddock have to do is figure out what Sakharine's scheme is, foil it, and maybe recover the reputation of the Haddocks. And what is the secret of The Unicorn?

The plot is action-filled, and definitely deserves the word Adventures in the title. It's quite an exhilarating film from start to finish. There may, however, be too much action in the film. I can see this criticism. Suddenly, Tintin's life is in danger because he purchased a model ship. It is a bit of a stretch, even if you're familiar with the source material. And when it feels like the film is going to give you a break, we're suddenly given the story of Sir Francis and the last night on The Unicorn. The action isn't necessarily bad, but a solid break or two from it would have been nice. Hergé's original stories are not that action filled and are full of many silly outcomes from it, some of which are retained in the film.

The plot is a loose adaptation. The opening is from The Secret of the Unicorn, and then it goes to The Crab With The Golden Claws, and at the end, there's a touch of Red Rackham's Treasure. There's also some original plot points not from Hergé's work at all. The plot tells a nice story, but some may wonder just how strong it is. Moffat himself has proved himself to be a master storyteller on Doctor Who, but as his draft was just the first, I begin to suspect Cornish and Wright of tampering a bit too much. Perhaps it would have been better if Spielberg, Second Unit Director Peter Jackson, and maybe Jackson's wife Fran Walsh had finished the script themselves. (They were two of the writers for The Lord of the Rings film trilogy, come on!)

One of the best developments in the plot is Captain Haddock's character. He begins as an oafish, layabout drunk who tells himself he'll never amount to anything, but Tintin's influence helps him actually get back on his feet and get his life back on track.

The characterizations were all spot-on, considering the film is aimed at today's audience (the original Tintin stories began in 1929, times have changed). The only one not like his character from Hergé's comics is the villainous Mr. Sakharine. In the original stories, Mr. Sakharine was a ship collector who already had one of The Unicorn models. Later, Tintin and Captain Haddock find him knocked unconscious and his model of The Unicorn broken, and that's all there is to him. The Bird brothers were the villains there, but here, I suppose, they felt a single villain would be better to handle, and instead of using two, they just wholly reinvented a relatively minor character. Bianca Castafiore, it should also be noted, does not sing her signature song from the comics, but considering the plot, it is possible she was asked to sing a different piece.

The animation, I have seen people complain about. I didn't spot anything really inconsistent or unnatural as some people have complained of. People have also complained about the "uncanny valley," in which a character looks so human that their imperfections make them creepy. This is mostly noted in the eyes which don't light up correctly, or the pupils fail to dilate. To me, because the characters were still stylized (the noses), it didn't bother me. In fact, I want a Tintin action figure. However, this form of animation has yet to master completely realistic eyes.

The film was also released in 3D, which I saw it in. The 3D doesn't pop out of the screen, meaning it's not distracting, and adds a nice layer of depth to the film. However, I felt like I still could have enjoyed the film just as well in 2D. I would have done so, but there were fewer showings of the 2D version.

So, The Adventures of Tintin is a great film that brings Hergé's beloved characters to life. The film is worth seeing, though it is not absolutely perfect. Next time, don't get comedians to finish the script, pace it a bit better, and work some more on getting the animation right. And as a sequel has been greenlit already, we might very well hope that they improve in those areas.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Top 5 Nutcrackers

E.T.A. Hoffman
Top 5 best adaptations of The Nutcracker story
These adaptations are, I feel, the most entertaining versions that also show great respect for the themes of the original story.

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
1. The Nutcracker Prince
Not only did this version stay faithful to Hoffman's story, it also deftly used Tchaikovsky's music to great effect, as well as not being so in love with the story to make a few changes for a contemporary audience.
2. The Nutcracker (Jetlag)
Although this version adheres to Hoffman's story, it is well-produced for its budget and moves along at a quick pace.
Alexandre Dumas
3. Щелкунчик (1973)
Though it's a re-imagined plot, the dreamy quality of Hoffman is carried over wonderfully, as well as the essence of the story. Also, it manages to not use dialogue, meaning that people of any language can understand it.
Victor Marius Alphonse Petipa
4. Nutcracker Fantasy
A highly re-imagined plot managed to still feature the important themes of Hoffman's story. The production quality is excellent and the music is incredible.
5. Le Fiabe più Belle. — Lo Schiaccianoci
Another anime that adheres to the book at a fast pace. It ranks this low only because there's no English version.

Ivan Alexandrovich Vsevolozhsky
Top 5 worst adaptations
These adaptations, I feel, completely blew it. Some may be entertaining on their own, but as a representation of the original story, I feel they failed miserably.

1. The Nutcracker in 3D/The Untold Story
Hoffman is not even acknowledged in this gloomy, saccharine CG-filled mess.
2. The Nuttiest Nutcracker
A re-imagined plot causes more questions than answers. The characters are too silly. A few songs brighten up this pitiful adaptation.
3. Barbie in the Nutcracker
Another re-imagined plot leaves critical logic questions unanswered. Hoffman's dreamy story becomes a "save the kingdom!" tale with a contrived reveal of Clara's magic powers at the end.
4. Щелкунчик (2004)
 In the English version, too many jokes ruin the tone of this film. The re-animated portions mar otherwise beautiful animation. The plot carries too few of Hoffman's themes.
5. The Secret of the Nutcracker
Touches from the story of the Nutcracker enter a story about a family missing their father in WWII, a compelling enough tale on its own. The fantasy elements feel like they're stretching out what could have been a really good non-fantasy tale.

And as we finish, let's remember who was responsible for The Nutcracker becoming the classic it is. Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann wrote the original story, and then Alexandre Dumas père rewrote it in French. Ivan Alexandrovich Vsevolozhsky commissioned Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky to compose an opera and ballet double bill, and it was Victor Marius Alphonse Petipa who chose The Nutcracker story to become a ballet, doing the original choreography. Five people, many of whom are often forgotten, who created a Christmas classic.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Nutcracker and Me

As you can guess, the story of Hoffman's Nutcracker is very dear to me. I forget how I was introduced to the story as a child. Maybe I loved the music of Tchaikovsky, or maybe I'd seen a production on television. Maybe someone had read me the story or I'd learned it at school.

My earliest memory was when I was given the Ralph Manheim translation of Hoffman's story and a red wooden Nutcracker for a gift one Christmas. I still have the book somewhere, but I own a paperback edition of it as well now. My original hardcover has little notes and sketches in it. The nutcracker is now long gone after heavy use. Wooden nutcrackers are only decorative these days. However, I now have this little guy:

I've posted the past 18 days about various versions of the story, some I enjoy more than others. I largely opted to ignore variants of the ballet as single blogs. As I mentioned, I did see a live production of the ballet. I can't remember too much about it, except that Fritz "broke" the Nutcracker by throwing it on the floor and standing over it, clenching his fists. The Nutcracker Prince started looking uncomfortable during the coffee dance, left, then appeared as one of the Peppermint dancers, left, and accompanied Mother Ginger as she did her dance.

Something was up with that prince...

I drew lots of Nutcracker pictures, even did a plastic canvas craft, so yes, I loved the story a lot. I even had a Nutcracker cloth design on a shirt, and when I grew out of it, I had my mom apply it to another Nutcracker shirt I had with a cast list for a local production on the back. That shirt vanished years ago.

I would often get annoyed by people pointing out people dressed as toy soldiers to me and saying "It's a Nutcracker!" No, it wasn't. It was a toy soldier. Big difference.

As I got older, I began to restrict my enjoyment of The Nutcracker to Christmastime. Then, I gave it up altogether. I didn't make a point to discard anything and everything I had related to it, I just didn't think of it so much. After my father presented me with the aforementioned paperback of Manheim's translation for Christmas 2008, I decided I'd read it again next year. Well, when I did, I'd also dug up some old picture books I had (Warren Chappell and another more modern one), and re-read those as well. At Christmas 2010, I'd gotten a recording of Tchaikovsky's score from eMusic with a free trial, and also decided I'd check out what visual adaptations I could. And goodness, there were many. I even wound up finding some after Christmas.

So, this year, remembering The Nutcracker a bit earlier, I decided I'd write these blogs. Sadly, unless I got an offer to work on some adaptation of the story, I don't see myself doing much more for The Nutcracker in future years, aside from continuing to enjoy and attempt to share Hoffman's story.

However, ballet companies still create their Nutcrackers year after year, and every now and then, some studio decides to make some sort of film interpretation of the story. It was rumored a couple years back that Bob Zemeckis is attempting a CG-animated version.

Maybe someday, someone will do a live action-CGI adaptation that will do full justice to the Hoffman story.
Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

BBC Radio's The Nutcracker and The Mouse King

BBC Radio has been widely recognized as one of the best producers of audio dramas. High quality productions with superb acting, sound effects and music.

So, imagine them taking on The Nutcracker. And Brian Sibley writing to boot! The guy who'd adapted The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings for them!

So, the adaptation was broken up into four episodes airing from December 27 to the 30th, 2010. The episodes were titled "Christmas Eve," "The Great Battle," "Mouseykins' Revenge," and "Uncle and Nephew."

And how does it stick to the book? Quite faithfully. Next to nothing is omitted. However, there are a couple odd points. First off is that the Nutcracker himself speaks and makes remarks. It's through him that we get a description of Drosselmeyer. This kind of ruins the mystery that the Nutcracker is an enchanted person. He has a sarcastic, droll sense of humor. The other odd bits are the name changes. Marie and Fritz have become Mary and Fred. I suppose they Anglicized it for a British audience. Madame Mouserinks is renamed Madame Mouseykins. Instead of fat in Pirlipat's mother's sausages, it is described as bacon as some translations have it.

The major problem I had was the pacing. The story plays at a gentle pace until after the story of Pirlipat ends in Part 4. It started in Part 2 (ending with Mouseykins and her mice enjoying the bacon), goes through Part 3 (ending with clockmaker Drosselmeyer overhearing his nephew cracking nuts) and ended in Part 4. Then, the rest of the entire story is crammed into the remaining time in the half hour episode. It seems to me that Pirlipat's story should have been told at a quicker pace and the rest of the story should have had at least an entire half hour to play out. Still, it doesn't miss any beats.

A worthy entry in Hoffman's Nutcracker adapted for audio, however, it hasn't been released commercially in any form: CD or digital audio download. (How did I hear it? My little secret.)

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Nutcracker in 3D/The Untold Story

I really hope director Andrei Konchalovsky wasn't serious when he said his take on The Nutcracker had been his dream project for 20 years. At a $90 million budget, it was a severe failure when it only took in less than $15 million, most of that not from U.S. sales. It was filmed in 2007, set for release in 2009, then held back another year while they converted it into 3D. Critics gave it severely negative criticism.

So, what could it be that made this movie flop? Could it be the inept acting from the child actors? The wretched songs lifted from Tchaikovsky's score for the ballet? Maybe Nathan Lane's character repeatedly breaking the fourth wall? What about the plot?

In 1920s Vienna, Uncle Albert (Einstein, oh brother...) visits his niece and nephew Mary and Max. He presents them with a dollhouse full of clockwork dolls, and a Nutcracker he calls "NC for short." (I just have to wonder at who would find the word "nutcracker" to be a mouthful.) NC is turned over to Mary, but as they leave for dinner, Max attempts to cram NC's mouth full of walnuts, breaking his lower jaw off. Uncle Albert repairs NC, but that night, NC comes to life and takes Mary downstairs where she finds the room has become immense: the Christmas tree towers to the stars!

The dolls in the dollhouse are now alive, and as they climb the Christmas tree, Mary finds the Snow Fairy (played by the same actress as her mother), who manages to turn NC back into a prince (after Mary has a plot-stopping dance with the snowflakes). But the Rat King who plans to enslave the human world is aware of what happened and has his mother renew her curse on the prince. (I have to mention that the Rat Queen is played by the same woman who plays Mary's family's housekeeper. Please, stop cribbing from MGM's Wizard of Oz when you write your fantasies...) The rat king has mechanical dogs bite into the base of the Christmas tree, knocking it over.

When Mary's parents return home from a concert, they find their tree (now normal sized) knocked over. The father blames the children quite angrily, even though Max is seen looking at the tree's base which has obviously been cut into. Mary refuses to hand over the Nutcracker and goes upstairs. Meanwhile, a visit from Uncle Albert helps soothe Mary's father.

That night, Mary and NC are joined by Max in their campaign against the Rat King, who quickly imprisons NC and the clockwork people from the doll house. After taking Max with him, a doll who managed to escape the Rat King takes Mary through a mirror to NC's world, where the Rat King has been having children's toys burnt to block out the sun. ("Who Shot Mr. Burns?" anyone?) Max refuses to help the Rat King, who thought he enjoyed breaking toys, because Max doesn't believe in breaking other people's toys.

Mary escapes into the place where they bulldoze all the toys before they are thrown into a furnace. She finds the Clockwork Dolls and a broken and lifeless NC. While the Dolls distract the guards (with a terrible song set to the March theme), Mary saves NC from the conveyor belt that would have taken him to the fire. She manages to revive him with a tear (yay, another fantasy cliche), which also restores him to his Prince form permanently. This causes a revolt in the slave workers, who quickly beat up the rats.

The Rat Queen suggests flight this time and thinks her son is abandoning her when Max offers to fly the flying machine for her. Which he can't do. The Rat King takes Mary to the flying machine and attempts to knock the Prince off a building, but it results in him and one of the Clockwork dolls getting onboard the machine as well. While these two help overpower the Rat King, Max crashes the flying machine, which he didn't want to do.

Seeing they are defeated, the Rat Queen and King turn into regular rats (they were humans with ratlike faces) and escape into the sewers. While the people rejoice, Mary is told she must go back home by the Snow Fairy. The Prince promises her she'll see him soon.

When she awakes in her own bed, Mary is told she has a visitor. Uncle Albert introduces him as his new neighbor, Nicholas Charles. The two go ice skating together.

The problem with this Nutcracker is that it tries to be a fantasy action movie being way too gloomy and sometimes scary for children to enjoy. Okay, I take back "scary." A kid might get shocked at the Rat King suddenly having a wide mouth and fangs or one of the Clockwork doll's heads removed and tossed around, but that's about it. Really, the plot makes no sense. A bunch of Nazi-looking rat people who are never seen physically hurting any regular people try to take over the human world? I suppose this dream world has never heard of poison. So, that's it. It's too somber for children, too silly for adults.

As an adaptation of the Nutcracker story, it fails. The trailer credits only Tchaikovsky as the creator of the Nutcracker story, a very inaccurate statement indeed. He wrote the music for the ballet, not the libretto or the choreography. No other credit to the creator of the original work was seen in the credits of the film. So, not only does this film only have the barest, slightest resemblance to Hoffman's original story, it doesn't even acknowledge him. As a result, I almost wish I could have excluded it from my reviews. However, it would be a wasted effort after trying to hunt it down for almost a year.

"Based on the story by Tchaikovsky" my foot. Hoffman wrote the original book, Dumas rewrote it in French, Marius Pepita adapted Dumas for the story for the ballet, and had Tchaikovsky write the music. Crediting Tchaikovsky for the Nutcracker story is like saying Judy Garland is responsible for The Wizard of Oz.

It's really a shame because $90 million could really have done Hoffman's story justice. Unfortunately, the creative talent (both words used loosely) behind this film didn't even know who he was.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Secret of the Nutcracker

The Secret of the Nutcracker was an odd one. I could find next to nothing about it, only that it was made in Canada for a 2007 release. Stateside, it was only released on DVD and Blu-Ray. Wikipedia has no pages about it, only scant mentions. There's no reviews on Amazon, however, a product description gives us some information:
Adapted from E.T.A. Hoffman's classic novel, The Secret of the Nutcracker features the talents of Brian Cox (The Escapist, The Water Horse) as Drosselmeyer and introduces Janelle Jorde as Clara in a charming union of fantasy and reality that captures the true essence of Christmas.
This delightful holiday tale follows 12-year-old Clara's mystical journey on Christmas Eve to find her father, who is captive in a World War II Prisoner of War camp. Worried and longing to see her father, she receives unexpected help from the mysterious Drosselmeyer, who befriends Clara and brings her the gift of magic and hope when she needs it most.
The Secret of the Nutcracker features the soaring music of Tchaikovsky performed by the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra. Four exquisite dance spectacles by the world-renowned Alberta Ballet are woven throughout to create Clara's wondrous dream world.
Okay... Let's give this a shot.

Yes, the movie follows a young girl named Clara who lives in a cabin in Alberta, Canada with her two brothers and her mother. As stated in the product description, her father is in a POW camp. ... In Germany.

Wrap your head around that. The Nutcracker originated in Germany. And now we go to a place and time when Germany is seen as an enemy. Odd.

Every day, Clara goes to the post office hoping for a letter from her father. One arrives while she was out getting some candy for her brothers at her mother's request. Clara hurries home and meets a strange old German man who calls himself Uncle Dross. He visits their home for dinner and gives the children presents and says many strange things that either comfort or mystify Clara's family.

That night, Clara seems to dream she's out in the woods and attacked my mice men. A boy resembling the boy at the Post Office and the Nutcracker Dross gave her leads her brothers and mother to fight the mice men. Clara defeats them by hurling a crystal doll (once again provided by Dross, who said it was Clara, so I suppose it represents her courage?) at the leader of the mice men, who is crystallized and shatters.

Dross arrives and he and Clara fly in a war plane to Germany, where they find Clara's father's POW camp and take him to a hall where Clara dances with the Nutcracker boy. Her father sits out and says it's not his dream. Dross tells him how brave his family has had to be for each other in his absence. Clara's father is even shown a miniature of the cabin, where observes his family asleep. As the dream ends, he is taken by the Germans.

Clara and her family begin to note a lack of letters from their father. Clara goes to an abandoned house, where she sees the Nutcracker boy point out a window. She goes to the place where he points. There, she sees someone walking towards her. It appears to be her father. But she's not sure, she's seen so many dreamy things lately. It takes awhile for her to realize it IS him and her family runs out and they are all reunited.

And while her father hugs Clara's mother and her brothers, she sees Dross and the Nutcracker boy behind a tree. Dross has the boy move out. He walks towards Clara, unfurls two large red wings that enclose him, turning him into a regular boy. Clara hugs him. Dross turns into an owl.

While the story bears little resemblance to the original Hoffman story, it's actually a good one. However, the story of Clara's family longing to be reunited with their father is made so compelling that when touches from The Nutcracker appear (in score and in dance scenes), they feel out of place. That's really the big weakness of the production. It's not really Nutcracker-y enough.

So, not bad, just really different. If you're interested, go ahead and give it a shot.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Щелкунчик (2004)

So, 2003 brought us another Russian animated adaptation of The Nutcracker, and the next year, it saw an English dub.

However, this "dub" did more than change the vocals. Scenes were cut and new ones added to accommodate what they thought would appeal to American kids. Unfortunately, given these were mainly jokes about modern day things rather than early 19th century Germany, the jokes are distracting. "I'll make you an offer you can't refuse!" says the Mouse King. "Like a mail-in rebate, or buy one, get one free!"

The adaptation is very loose, to say the least! The Mouse King (English voice: Leslie Nielsen) and two mice are stowing along on magician Drosselmeyer's wagon. As it reaches a town, it transforms into an elegant toy store.

Clara and her little brother Nicholas spot the store and visit, where Drosselmeyer tells them the story of a selfish young prince who was given a magic nut. He accidentally used to wish everything in the castle were toys, turning everyone into toys, and himself into a Nutcracker. The Mouse King, aided by his aunt's evil shadow, has been wanting the kingdom for his own and wanted to use the magic nut to take over the world with mice.

Clara asks if anything can be done, and Drosselmeyer says another magic nut can be procured from the land of Dreams which is only opened once a year on Christmas Day and the prince can only be assisted by a dreamer with a true heart. She takes the Nutcracker with her, and Drosselmeyer sends the toy servants after him to assist as they can.

The mice go to Clara's house, where, when Marie goes downstairs late at night to promise the Nutcracker her help, Drosselmeyer's mechanical bird arrives and brings all the toys to life. The Mouse King's aunt unleashes her knitted army of mice and they attack. The toys mainly putter around, the Nutcracker refusing to fight, until Marie's parents enter. The mice vanish, the Mouse King and his two assistants carrying away the Nutcracker. Clara is sent back to bed.

However, when Clara sees the Nutcracker being dragged away, she and the toys head off after him. The Mouse King sets termites loose on the Nutcracker, but a crow (Drosselmeyer's mechanical bird in disguise) eats them. They try to scare him with shadows, then fire, but accidentally set the little place on fire. (Whatever it is. It looks like they're in a graveyard.) Clara manages to save the Nutcracker and hurries to Drosselmeyer's shop.

Drosselmeyer says that he thinks Clara is the "true heart," and shows the Nutcracker the broken toys that used to be the Prince's servants. The Nutcracker thanks them, and his thanks magically fixes them. Drosselmeyer then tells Clara she must go to the Land of Dreams to get another magic nut but the way will close at midnight (which is in twenty minutes). Clara and the Nutcracker are transported through a mirror back to Clara's home, but she's now the size of the Nutcracker.

The Mouse King is waiting with his army, but Drosselmeyer supplies him with his own army. They fire food at the mice, which the mice gobble up, making them too fat to fight. Clara and the Nutcracker climb the cabinet to a glowing spot at the top, followed by the Mouse King. They reach the top and find a portal to the Land of Dreams, but when they reach the Nut, the Mouse King is there first. The Nutcracker and Mouse King fight while Clara (with help from the mechanical bird) dispatches the evil shadow who's been helping the Mouse King all along the way.

The Magic Nut is knocked down during the fight and the Nutcracker gets it, but the Mouse King holds Clara over the side of the building. The Nutcracker throws the Nut at the Mouse King, then leaps down to save Clara who was dropped anyway. Clara and the Nutcracker manage to grab a string and save themselves while the Mouse King wishes to be king of all the toys. He accidentally swallows the Nut whole and falls and hangs from a Christmas tree, where he turns into a Nutcracker ornament.

Clara finds herself in her living room, with the Nutcracker nowhere. Her mother takes her to the Christmas ball.

Drosselmeyer finds the Nutcracker on the street and assures him they can try again next year. But the Nutcracker wants Clara. Drosselmeyer tells him that this revelation was what was needed to restore him. In the English version, Drosselmeyer sends him onto the dance floor at the Christmas Ball, where he slowly turns back into a Prince, Clara's touch offering the finish. In the Russian, this happens behind a mirror, which Clara pulls him out of. The Prince's servants are also restored to humans. Clara and the Prince dance, and find the Mouse King as an ornament on the tree. When Clara touches him, he bites her, and she drops him, and the two mice assistants carry him away. (They joke that the story could be made into a book or a ballet.)

Drosselmeyer's shop turns back into a carriage, and he rides away, Clara and the Prince making their farewells, while the two mice assistants wonder if the Mouse King might find someone to befriend him someday.

Overall, I felt the story bore extremely little resemblance to Hoffman's story. Clara doesn't get to do anything really brave or do any sacrifice to prove her love, and the Nutcracker is no longer brave and dashing, just a kid. Also, the whole thing with him being a Prince feels unresolved: where's his kingdom? And making the Mouse King funny makes him sad: he just wanted a better way of living. Unlike his aunt, he didn't even want to take over the whole world.

This is even worse in the English version where too many jokes ruined any suspense. The jokes are corny, dull, and happen way too often. The re-done animation also stands out, making the look uneven, and I don't usually have an eye for that.

The music uses none of Tchaikovsky's score. Also, in the Russian version, the girl is named "Masha," which is their form of the name "Marie." However, in the English dub, she has the name Clara, which seems to be more familiar to American audiences.

Overall, with a few more touches from Hoffman and a better English language script, this could have been an interesting Nutcracker, but in the end, it doesn't feel special at all.

You can watch the Russian version below.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Barbie in the Nutcracker

Two years after The Nuttiest Nutcracker, another CG Nutcracker came out: Barbie in the Nutcracker. This would be the fashion doll's first movie. It was also a loose adaptation.

Barbie's little sister Kelly is having trouble learning ballet and tells her sister about her stage fright. Barbie encourages her to keep at it and be brave, "Like Clara." Barbie then tells about Clara and her little brother Tommy, orphaned children who live with their grandfather Drosselmeyer. Their aunt Elizabeth visits early and after regaling Clara of her globetrotting, gives her a nutcracker soldier. Tommy tries to take it from her, but breaks its arm. After calling him "impossible," Clara falls asleep on the sofa.

That night, the owl on the clock and the toys come to life as the Mice, led by the Mouse King (one head, voiced menacingly by Tim Curry) scurry in. Clara tries to drop a vase on him, but he shrinks her to mouse-size with his wand. However, Clara manages to knock him out by throwing an ornament at him from the Christmas tree.

The Nutcracker says he must get back to his home land of Parthenia. He reveals the Mouse King turned him into a nutcracker and then the owl on the clock tells them they must find the Sugar Plum Princess, as only she can undo the Mouse King's magic. The owl gives Clara a locket that will take her back home.

Going through the mouse hole, they find Parthenia, and soon a gingerbread village that was destroyed by the Mouse King's troops. Finding a couple of children left, Clara and the Nutcracker journey on with them, until they are put on the run by more troops. They are rescued by the tree dwelling people of Parthenia. Supposedly, this is the only safe place. Captain Candy and the indignant Major Mint decide to help Clara and the Nutcracker see the Sugar Plum Princess.

Clara hears the story of Prince Eric of Parthenia. He was going to be king, but wasn't responsible enough to be king yet. So his father made the Mouse King regent until Eric learned to be responsible. But the Mouse King liked the power and Eric disappeared. Of course, Clara puts two and two together and sees that Eric is the Nutcracker, which he privately confirms.

Meanwhile, the Mouse King has been having his bat Pimm spy on the heroes and bring reports. When he hears of the Sugar Plum Princess, he looks for any mention of her. He can only find a brief description and sends a stone giant after our heroes.

Reaching the sea of storms, the heroes manage to defeat the stone giant and freeze the water, allowing them to cross to an island where the Nutcracker, Captain Candy and Major Mint are caught in a trap. Clara is helped by fairies back to the main land, where she manages to free the Nutcracker before he is thrown onto a bonfire.

The Nutcracker fights the Mouse King again and when the Mouse King is about to strike, Clara stops him. He's about to shrink Clara again, when the Nutcracker uses his sword to deflect it back at the Mouse King, shrinking him to the size of a normal mouse.

The Nutcracker is injured, but Clara kisses him, turning him back into Prince Eric. They realize that Clara is the Sugar Plum Princess and the Mouse King's evil magic is undone as everyone dances. Clara intends to stay until the Mouse King, riding Pimm, steals the locket and opens it, sending Clara home. (A child dispatches the mouse and bat with a snowball.) Eric tells her he loves her.

Back home, Clara awakes and can't find the Nutcracker. Aunt Elizabeth introduces a friend, a young man named Eric and he gives her a locket like the one the Mouse King took. We are shown a prince and princess dancing in a snowglobe.

Kelly, inspired by Clara's story, finally gets her dance moves right.

The music is used to good effect and the story is actually all right, but it suffers from plot holes, right off, why would the king, seemingly a human, give regency to a mouse over a trusted member of the court? How does Clara suddenly have magic powers? I mean, we saw some hints as flowers popped up in her footsteps as she walked through snow early in the film, but otherwise, it feels like it comes from nowhere.

The animation is all right, using motion capture for the ballet dancing, but the textures are too shiny. This looks just fine on the Nutcracker, since he's probably glossed as well as painted, but on human characters, it's wrong.

Overall, as a fan of the original Hoffman, changing Marie's sacrifices for Clara finding out she's a princess with magic powers just feels unsatisfying. It's telling you a stereotypical "save the kingdom" fantasy story instead of a really good story. After all, we saw this already in the Care Bears Nutcracker Suite.

Overall, feel free to give Barbie's Nutcracker a miss.

What makes this poor adaptation even worse to me is that about six years earlier, there was a faithful, if abbreviated, Barbie version of The Nutcracker. However, it was in comics.

In this issue, Barbie and her friends are going to do a charity performance of The Nutcracker but the stage gets ruined. Barbie saves the day by suggesting it be performed on ice. The story opens with Marie (played by Barbie) going downstairs to see her Nutcracker, but finds him and a toy soldiers battling mice. Marie ends the battle by throwing her shoe at the Mouse King and then goes to bed.

The next day, Marie's godfather visits and she tells him about the battle. He tells her about how a queen banished the mice from her kingdom, but the queen of mice threatened revenge by a curse on the princess. When the curse takes effect, the princess turns into a rat. A wise woman tells the queen that the Krakatuk Nut's kernel can break the curse, so the woman searches many years to find the nut and a young man to break it. When she finally returns successful, the princess is restored, but the young man turns into a nutcracker. The Mouse Queen arrives and says that the mice will destroy the Nutcracker.

Godfather suggests the Nutcracker needs a new sword, so Marie gives him a metal one. This allows him to defeat the Mouse King that night, allowing the Nutcracker to turn into a handsome prince. The narrator tells us they married.

Like I said, faithful, but abbreviated. Imagine how that would have been if turned into a CGI movie instead of this mess?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Nuttiest Nutcracker

I was reluctant to watch this one. I mean, seriously? A take on The Nutcracker featuring talking vegetables and nuts? But my dad bought me the DVD...

It's an early CGI movie, and was released direct to video. As such, you could guess the production quality didn't have much going for it. Things look too shiny (including human skin), many poses just don't look right, and the Mouse King's army is a bunch of clones of each other.

The story opens with a promise from a rotund Sugar Plum Fairy that this Nucracker has a "nutty little twist." A girl named Marie is concerned that her parents haven't come home yet on Christmas Eve, so her Uncle Drosselmeyer decides to cheer her and her brother Fritz up with gifts, Marie's being a Nutcracker "doll." After Fritz breaks it, she puts it away, inexplicably saying she liked him the best of all her gifts ever.

Meanwhile, a group of nuts explain that the Nutcracker was once a prince in love with Princess Pirlipat, who was cursed to look ugly by the Mouse Queen. However, he broke the nut that would break the curse, but the Mouse Queen turned him into a Nutcracker in her anger. ... Okay, sounds promising... Just with ... nuts as characters...

Why couldn't they have... uh... used ... say... toys instead of food? *Sigh.*

And now Reginald the Rat comes out of a hole in the wall. He's the Mouse King, son of the Mouse Queen in the Nutcracker origin. He wants to enslave the nuts to be slaves in his cheese mines (YES, TAKE THEM!) and steal the star from on top of the Christmas Tree to take over Christmas.

... Don't ask me how that works. A prerequisite to this is switching your brain off.

Marie has taken a nap (because, you know... *sigh*) and awakens to see vegetables, nuts, and the Nutcracker, now turned into a miniature prince, fighting Reginald and his army of cloned mice. She kicks Reginald (no shoe-fu for this girl) and when he gets attracted to her (SHADES OF BESTIALITY!), she climbs up the ladder against the Christmas tree and tries to throw the star at him.

Because that's SUCH a great defense plan...

But the star makes her shrink and...

...You know what? ... I just can't take it anymore. This just makes no darn sense at all. I'm just gonna breeze through the rest.

They have to get the star back on the tree (why they have to go to Candyland and not just, uh... CLIMB THE LADDER? is beyond me!), Marie gets kidnapped, gets rescued, they save Reginald from drowning in cheese, so he reforms, there's some really bad looking explosions (and by "bad", I mean BAD... how does cheese explode?) and the fat Sugar Plum Fairy tells Marie to believe and throw the star (not like a Ninja), she wakes up from her seemingly-narcotic inspired dream, and her parents are home, and Uncle Drosselmeyer has invited his nephew, who is you-know-who. And the Sugar Plum Fairy thinks she deserves some gratitude.


To be honest, a couple songs were pretty good, but they couldn't save the movie. I'm of the opinion that if you're going to rework the heck out of a story, it should make some sort of sense, like that Russian animated version. This just leaves too many logic points wide open.

There's some big name stars in this, including Phyllis Diller as the Sugar Plum Fairy. She's only worth noting because she also voiced the Mouse Queen in The Nutcracker Prince. And now that I reminded you of a GOOD version, please write this one off your "must see" list.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Shari Lewis: Lamb Chop's Nutcracker Suite

One of the great joys of childhood was Shari Lewis. She appealed to kids with good, wholesome, somewhat educational entertainment that was actually funny. I absolutely loved Lamb Chop's Play Along and was so sad when I heard she died in 1998.

Lamb Chop was a puppet of a ewe lamb who would often be Shari's foil. However, despite Lamp Chop's silliness, she was an endearing character and no matter how exasperated Shari could get at Lamb Chop, they'd always be friends.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered they'd made an audio cassette of The Nutcracker!

Well, the tape opens with a "ho ho ho," and Lamb Chop cheering, "It's Santa Claus!" But as it continues, it appears Shari has just had to bring Lamb Chop inside as the poor lamb has a cold. Sadly, this means they can't attend a performance of The Nutcracker ballet.

Lamb Chop is unfamiliar with ballet and The Nutcracker, so Shari explains how ballet can tell a story with dance and music, while she decides to tell the story of The Nutcracker herself.
 Shari tells the standard story of the ballet, highlighted by songs with original lyrics based on Tchaikovsky's score. These songs work really well, actually. The overture becomes Mr. Stahlbaum's greeting of the guests. The playful march theme becomes a song for Fritz as he and other boys play soldiers. The mice are represented with the Coffee theme (Shari notes the change later), and a few selections of the later score are sung, one of the most humorous being the Chinese dance, which concludes with "Please, oh, please bring us Chinese!"

Shari's Nutcracker concludes with a dance between Clara and the Prince, and he asks her to marry him, but she must refuse as she is only six years old as Shari explains. (In Hoffman's original book, Marie had just turned seven, so Shari isn't too far off.) However, the memories of that night, Shari assures us, Clara will treasure forever.

The tape concludes with pieces of the famous score without lyrics this time.

Many parents have recommended Shari's tape (later re-released as CD) as a great way to introduce children to ballet and The Nutcracker story, and I suppose that's true. Lamb Chop's quips and remarks make this enjoyable for all ages as well. ("Do you know why parents take their children to see The Nutcracker?" "Freddy Kruger isn't in it?") However, copies of this one seem to go for high prices nowadays, so if you want to check it out, you might have to look hard for a good deal or prepare to spend a bit of money.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Jetlag's Nutcracker

My paternal grandfather knew I liked the Nutcracker story. A few Christmases, he gave me Nutcracker gifts: the George Balanchine ballet on VHS (yeah, the movie with Macaulay Culkin), the Warren Chappell book, tickets for the Springfield Ballet production, and one year, an animated version on VHS.

I have since purchased that same animated version on DVD, and now will attempt to review it. The production was by Jetlag Studios, a low budget animation studio who would turn out animated movies usually based on public domain materials.

Their Nutcracker starts with a song being sung about a Season of Love and the Nutcracker who became a King and a Little Girl who became a Queen. Then it's to the Stahlbaum home where Marie and Fritz eagerly await to open their Christmas presents. Their parents play around and ask, "if it's time to open your presents, what are you doing in here?" They hurry in and enjoy their gifts, and soon, Drosselmeyer arrives to activate his clockwork castle, which Marie loves, but Fritz loses interest in quickly.

Drosselmeyer points out the Nutcracker on the tree to Marie. Her father demonstrates how to use it to crack nuts, and Drosselmeyer says it belongs to Marie. She decides to only crack small nuts, but Fritz crams the Nutcracker's mouth full of nuts and breaks off some of his teeth. He's unconcerned about what he did. Marie sits up with the Nutcracker, assuring him she loves him and Godfather Drosselmeyer will repair him. However, as the clock chimes, the owl on top of the clock comes to life and turns into Drosselmeyer himself. Mice begin swarming in, led by a seven-headed Mouse King (at last!), who calls for battle on Fritz's toy soldiers.

Drosselmeyer brings the Nutcracker to life and the little wooden fellow calls the soldiers to life. However, the Mouse King manages to shatter the Nutcracker's sword, but before he can give the death blow, Marie throws her shoe at the Mouse King, but hits her head on the toy cabinet and passes out.

Marie awakens in bed and Fritz and her mother don't believe her story about the battle. However, Drosselmeyer arrives with a repaired Nutcracker and proceeds to tell her "how the Nutcracker became the Nutcracker."

A king and a queen with their baby princess Pirlipat called clockmaker Drosselmeyer to rid the palace of mice, but Madame Mouserinks, queen of the mice, swears vengeance that she will deliver on Pirlipat. Despite their guard of maids and cats, Mouserinks gets through and curses the princess. Drosselmeyer and the court astronomer spend 15 years sailing the world searching for a Krakatook nut and a young man who has never shaved or worn boots. They finally find both with Drosselmeyer's cousin. (They left in the part where the cousin tells Drosselmeyer it was fifteen years ago that he got the nut. "LET ME AT HIM!" Drosselmeyer begs.) Drosselmeyer's nephew breaks the nut for Pirlipat, which restores her beauty, after the king agrees Pirlipat will marry the nephew. However, Madame Mouserinks arrives and turns him into a Nutcracker that falls over on her and kills her. With her dying breath, she swears revenge. Pirlipat refuses to marry the Nutcracker, and the king tells Drosselmeyer to leave.

Marie feels sure that her Nutcracker is Drosselmeyer's nephew. But that night, the Mouse King visits her and demands her Christmas candy or he'll chew the Nutcracker apart. She agrees, but her family doesn't believe her, except Drosselmeyer. The next night, he returns and demands more of her things, and she gives in. The next day she tells the Nutcracker she's afraid the Mouse King will take all her things until she has nothing left and he'll be destroyed. The Nutcracker comes to life and explains he needs a new sword. Fritz supplies one (saying "The day may come when I might need a favor, so here." "Thanks, Fritz! You're the best brother ever!" "I know.") and that night, the Nutcracker valiantly slays the Mouse King, giving Marie the seven crowns.

The Nutcracker then takes Marie through a coat sleeve to Christmas Wood, where they eat Sugar Plums that fly like shooting stars, and sail to Lake Rosa, where Marie sees a princess in the water. She thinks it's Pirlipat (and it is for a moment), but the Nutcracker has her look and see that it is her own reflection. Arriving at the Marzipan Castle, the Nutcracker is greeted by his weeping sisters and then he and Marie dance. A song follows about dancing through the night, but it climaxes with Marie waking up in her bed. Again, her parents don't believe her story, even when she shows them the crowns. However, she is declared well enough to leave her bed.

Marie tells the Nutcracker she still loves him, no matter what anyone says. And at that moment, Drosselmeyer enters with a young man who Marie identifies as his nephew, who later speaks with her in private. He reveals he was the Nutcracker, and invites her to rule with him in the Marzipan Castle, and they are transported immediately there.

"You are my love, my dream come true." — Marie

The production closes with a music video composed of clips of the short film with the song, "A Dream Come True."

Despite some of the voices and dialogue not sounding entirely authentic for Germany in the early 19th century, I'm still surprised at how well this production adapts Hoffman's story. Very little is excised, and the production runs at a quick pace, clocking in at under 45 minutes. The animation is passable, nothing Disney-worthy, but there aren't any quickly noticeable inconsistencies, either.

The production is also notable for not using Tchaikovsky's score. The familiar March theme is used in some pieces of music, but usually, it's original music.

It's easy to ignore this one for its low budget and cheap releases, but, while it might be nostalgic sentimentality, I really recommend that this one not be missed.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Le Fiabe più Belle. — Lo Schiaccianoci

I found this Italian-dubbed anime version of The Nutcracker quite by accident on YouTube. Apparently, it was from a series of videos called Le Fiabe più Belle, or The Most Beautiful Tales. Many stories were in the series, such as The Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland among many classic fairy tales.

This adaptation is quite faithful to Hoffman, though very fast paced. And it appears that, unusual for adaptations, Fritz is actually depicted as the older brother.

But anyway, I can't say much more than that. Here it is:

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Nutcracker Prince

1990 brought the first English big screen animated adaptation of Hoffman's Nutcracker. And what a cast! Megan Follows (Anne of Green Gables) as Clara, Peter O'Toole playing the supporting role of a soldier named Pantaloon, Phyllis Diller as the Mouse Queen, and Kiefer Sutherland (long before 24) as the Nutcracker Prince himself!

The film opens wonderfully with Clara and Fritz delivering gifts around town and going to visit Godpapa (who they also call "Uncle," though they establish he's not really an uncle) Drosselmeyer before they return home for the family Christmas party.

One element often ignored in Nutcracker adaptations appears: the older Stahlbaum sister Louise is present. (She was in Hoffman's book, but as her role is barely fleeting, she is often omitted.) She is being courted, and Clara notes this, partly in scorn, and, perhaps, envy. Clara also has a kitten named Pavola.

At the party, Fritz gets a soldier's hat and a toy cannon. Clara gets a doll she names Marie (it is noted that many times the name of the doll and the girl are exchanged, however, few adaptations I've seen feature the doll by name, if at all). Clara's mother says that this will likely be Clara's last doll: she is about to become a young woman.

Godpapa Drosselmeyer arrives with a magnificent clockwork castle that, when Fritz asks if anything can be changed about it, he covers and pushes away in a huff. Clara finds a Nutcracker among the presents and Drosselmeyer shows her how to crack nuts with it before Fritz takes it and mistakes a toy cannon ball for a nut and breaks off some of the teeth.

As music plays, Drosselmeyer tells Clara the story of why the Nutcracker looks the way he does. (The sequence is animated in a cruder style than the rest of the film and the voices are comically exaggerated.) In a kingdom far away, clockmaker Christian Elias Drosselmeyer and his nephew Hans serve a king who reigns with his queen and their teenage daughter Pirlipat. On the King's birthday, the Queen is making a bleu cheese cake when the Mouse Queen arrives and with her oafish son and all their mice subjects, destroys it. Enraged, the king orders that the mice be killed.

In revenge for killing her subjects, the Mouse Queen curses Pirlipat with ugliness. Blaming Drosselmeyer for his daughter's ugliness, the King is about to have him executed, but the Queen suggests that he find a way to restore their daughter instead. Drosselmeyer discovers the Krakatook nut can lift the curse, if it is broken by a young man who has never shaved or worn boots, if he cracks it with his eyes closed and takes seven steps backwards. (Luckily, there's a Krakatook nut in the Royal Nuthouse.)

The King sends a notice that anyone who can break it may have Pirlipat and the kingdom, but all eligible bachelors fail. In a last ditch effort to save his uncle, Hans attempts to break the nut and does so, but as he walks backwards, the Mouse Queen turns him into a Nutcracker. He falls over, causing a pillar to squash her, and her son's tail. The Nutcracker grows to a small size and the King and Pirlipat banish Drosselmeyer and Hans. The Mouse Queen's son swears revenge to the Nutcracker.

Clara shrugs the story off as a fairy tale, but that night, she returns to the Nutcracker and shows the other toys to him, including the soldier Pantaloon, and her dolls Marie and Miss Trudy. She sings to the Nutcracker (a lovely song that utilizes The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy as its melody), but when Pavola breaks an ornament, she turns to go upstairs. However, she sees a phantom-like Drosselmeyer on the clock. He opens his coat and magic flies from him, bringing the toys to life as mice led by the Mouse King (who has been redesigned to look more fearsome, even with just one head) swarm in. The Nutcracker doesn't have a sword, so Clara is forced to defend him against the Mouse King by throwing her slipper at him, but she hits her head against the clock and passes out.

Clara awakens in bed and is told she was found unconscious downstairs. Fritz gives her a half-eaten box of chocolates as a gift which she puts in a drawer. Drosselmeyer arrives with a fixed Nutcracker and vague answers to her questions about the night before. Her mother arrives and insists she needs rest and the Nutcracker should go back downstairs. Drosselmeyer promises to keep an eye on the Nutcracker.

That night, the Mouse King arrives in Clara's room and tells her he's going to chew the Nutcracker to pieces. She offers him the chocolates, but she catches him in the drawer and runs downstairs. Drosselmeyer is back on the clock and the toys reawaken for a second battle, one of the toys lending the Nutcracker a sword. He manages to stab the Mouse King in the chest and the mouse falls from the Christmas tree. However, Pantaloon has been damaged in battle and they must take him to the Land of the Dolls to fix him. Clara is invited to join, and Drosselmeyer shrinks her so she can go with the toys through the clockwork castle.

They are transported to a Christmas Forest full of Christmas trees on the backs of flying swans. Clara and the Nutcracker share a dance in the Candy Castle and he asks her to stay. She's love to, but she reflects that she wants to grow up. Her family and Pavlova need her, and she wants to dance in the ballet. This makes the toys freeze and resume their normal toy appearance. Suddenly, the Mouse King appears, wounded and angry. While the Nutcracker attempts to fight, he is slowly turning back into his wooden form. Clara fights him, and lures him to the balcony where they both fall off, but Clara grabs the edge and pulls herself back up, and sees the Castle abandoned and a mist filling it. She tearfully calls for the Nutcracker.

Suddenly, Clara awakens in her bed, Fritz excitedly telling her how Pavolva caught a mouse. She grabs her slippers and coat and runs downstairs. The Nutcracker is gone. She runs to Drosselmeyer's shop. He opens the door, possibly having expected her, and she begs him to tell her the truth about the Nutcracker and Mouse King, saying she must know what is and isn't real. However, a young man carrying a clock enters from the back room, and Drosselmeyer introduces him as his nephew, Hans.

"Hello, Clara," says Hans, bowing.

"Hello, Nutcracker," replies Clara.

The animation in The Nutcracker Prince is gorgeous (except in the Princess Pirlipat story, but that's intentional), and the voice acting is top notch. While the story deviates a little from the original Hoffman, it works very well as an adaptation.

There are two songs, the afore-mentioned song that Clara sings to the Nutcracker: "Save this Dance." During the end credits, a Tchaikovsky-inspired song called "Always Come Back To You" plays, sung by Natasha's Brother and Rachele Cappelli. Often song sequences can stick out like sore thumbs, particularly if they use a piece of well-known music as a basis. However, these work beautifully.

The Nutcracker Prince wasn't a big box office success, so it's mainly been relegated to a video release, television broadcasts, and low budget DVDs. To be honest, for being one of the best adaptations of the Hoffman story that uses little from the ballet, I'd say it deserves much better recognition.