A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this version of the classic Nutcracker holiday tale bears only a passing resemblance to the famous ballet and story that inspired it. Viewers expecting the whimsy of the original may be downright confused, enraged and -- if they’re 8 and under -- frightened. Here, the Rat King is a Hitler-like villain with the desire to burn children’s toys and a combative relationship with a dysfunctional mother (she bites his ear out of anger). Other disturbing scenes include a drummer boy (who appears human) whose head is yanked off and tossed around. Soldiers are shown wielding machine guns, and one character smokes a cigar. And the 3-D presentation makes some of the scary parts even more intense.
What's the story?
The holiday season seems so much brighter for 9-year-old Mary (Elle Fanning) after a visit from wild-maned Uncle Albert (Nathan Lane), who tells wondrous stories and brings with him a gift: a nutcracker. Unlike most gifts, the nutcracker -- NC for short -- is truly magical: He comes to life and takes Mary with him on a fantastical journey to his homeland. She soon discovers that NC was once a real-life prince (Charlie Rowe) who was put under the spell of an evil Rat Queen (Frances de la Tour) and her son (John Turturro), who has made himself king of the prince’s land. The Rat King wants the prince dead so that he can reign in terror. And because he’s scared of the sun, he continues to burn all of the children’s toys so that a cloud of smoke will hang over his domain. But Mary’s not having it, and neither is the prince. Even Mary’s naughty brother comes to the rescue in this movie based on the E.T.A. Hoffman story and Tchaikovsky ballet.
Is it any good?
THE NUTCRACKER IN 3D by no means does justice to the original (far from it, in fact, with little dancing and some lyrics -- yes, lyrics -- pegged onto Tchaikovsky’s music). Remaking a classic rarely happens without controversy, especially so when it's a story (or ballet) as entrenched as The Nutcracker. The 3-D effects seem unnecessary and -- frankly -- perhaps tacked on to generate a few extra dollars at the box office.
And for a film that’s clearly intended to appeal to kids, this Nutcracker feels too apocalyptic and dark, with its references to Nazi Germany, for younger viewers (though Turturro, who’s almost always pitch-perfect, is puzzling rather than scary as the evil Rat King). Still, Fanning is a delight as Mary, managing to infuse the production with some semblance of wonder. And though the story here has been diluted at best, its underlying message of the beauty of a child’s imagination still rings true. That’s a relief.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how this movie compares to other versions of The Nutcracker. Is it scarier? Why? What audience do you think it's intended to appeal to?
What made Joseph forget what he was like as a young boy? Do you think parents sometimes act like they’ve never been kids? What's the message behind this storyline?
Does the Rat King seem scary or troubled?
What does the Nutcracker mean to Mary? Is he a figment of her imagination? Why did he appear?
- In theaters: November 24, 2010
- On DVD or streaming: November 1, 2011
- Cast: Elle Fanning, John Turturro, Nathan Lane
- Director: Andrei Konchalovsky
- Studio: Freestyle Releasing
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Magic and fantasy, Arts and dance, Holidays
- Run time: 110 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: thematic material, scary images, action and brief smoking
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.