Monday, December 5, 2011

Щелкунчик (1973)

Russia's animation output never ceases to amaze me. I'd been exposed to some Oz animation and it was fine. But in 1973, they turned out their own adaptation of the Nutcracker. Nothing Disney-worthy, but let's look at it.

Schelkunchik (which translates simply to "Nutcracker") contains no dialogue, and mainly Tchaikovsky's music, though some is from also from his Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty. This is truly a fine marriage of music and animation. It opens with a soldier mouse searching with a searchlight. He eventually finds a nutcracker on a Christmas tree and smiles, and heads out. Whatever mission he was on has been completed.

Fast forward to Christmas morning. Many children rip open their presents, and use the Nutcracker to crack nuts. Meanwhile, through a window, a chambermaid watches curiously as the children enjoy a lush pastime she apparently never got to. The Nutcracker is soon abandoned as a rich dinner is served.

At night, the chambermaid enters the room to clean up after the party. She mops up, but then quietly begins to dance. The mop joins her, and she finds the Nutcracker on the floor. Admiring him, she gives him a kiss that brings him to life. He greets her, but then realizes he's made of wood. He looks at his reflection in the window and is dismayed at what he sees.

The Nutcracker tells his story: he was a prince, and shortly after his birth, his parents had a party for him. The party is invaded by a cruel three-headed mouse queen and her three-headed son. They are rude, and seem to offer to become friends, offering the baby prince a wrapped gift. The queen unwraps it, revealing it to be ... nothing. The baby cries. The king asks the mice to leave, but they refuse. He sends guards who are petrified and shattered by the mouse queen. The king draws a sword, but the queen eats it out of his hand, so he enters a secret chamber hidden in the wall by his throne to get some poison. The mouse prince closes the door after the king, but the baby's cradle rocks onto his tale. Injured, he cries to his mother who looms over everyone threateningly. She is about to cast a curse, when the king arrives through a hole in the floor the mice had made. He poisons her, which causes her to burst, but her tail flies through the air, striking the baby prince, transforming him into a Nutcracker. Distraught, his mother catches him up and cries over him. The mouse prince grabs his mother's crown and leaves, shaking his fist. Everything in the throne room is frosted over, and the Nutcracker is transported to a Christmas tree.

And now, soldier mice begin to enter the hall and the Mouse King, apparently the mouse prince now grown to an adult, enters. The chambermaid tries to guard the Nutcracker, but the Mouse King uses his magic and shrinks her to his size. The Nutcracker calls the other toys and ornaments to battle, and they fight, the mice being drowned with candy, but the Mouse King uses his scepter to disintegrate all in his way. The Nutcracker is caught and about to be destroyed. The chambermaid throws her wooden clog at the Mouse King, knocking off his crown, which destroys him, creating a mysterious vapor that kills all the mice.

The chambermaid's clog becomes a beautiful shining slipper. The Nutcracker picks it up, and as he does so, his wooden body crumbles, revealing a handsome young prince underneath. He puts on the shoe on her foot, and her other clog transforms into its mate. Then her dress transforms into a beautiful gown, and as the Prince offers her his hand, they are transported through dance back to his old home. The throne room thaws, and the king and queen are thrilled to see their son a normal human being again, and with a beautiful girl at his side. The Prince and his soon to be Princess join in a mesmerizing dance.

Back under the Christmas tree lies the broken shell of the Nutcracker and a pair of wooden clogs.

Now, this is a very loose adaptation of the story. Aside from the Nutcracker and the Mouse King and his mother, none of Hoffman's characters appear. The chambermaid takes the role of Marie, and the children at the party more or less fill the role of Fritz, and in some ways, Marie. The story of Princess Pirlipat is telescoped into a story of how a prince was turned into the Nutcracker.

The thing is, even though it is very loose, it is so well done and the telescoped plot makes so much sense, I actually love it! It's on my list of favorite adaptations.

1 comment:

Sam A M said...

Their Russian animation for "Alice" is equally, maybe even more, impressive.

I would have, and do, think that the chambermaid IS Clara/Marie, but just in a different portrayal.

The use of Tchaikovsky's other scores fits well with the Nutcracker story (especially with the Sleeping Beauty-like curse of the baby)!

Also interesting how the Mice Army arrange themselves into the shape of a big mouse before the charge.