18 January 2015 | TheLittleSongbird
Dark and strange but also beautiful and fascinating
As someone who adores the Nutcracker story and the ballet and admires the voice cast and stop-motion animation, Nutcracker Fantasy was a real treat. A lot of work and care clearly went into the visuals because they look absolutely fabulous, a tad stiff here and there but the animation is modelled beautifully, the colours are wonderfully dark and sumptuous and the backgrounds are exquisitely designed and exude a beautiful and eerie quality.
Tchaikovsky's music is timeless and what there is of it in Nutcracker Fantasy matches the visuals splendidly and is appropriate to the mood of every scene it appears. There is a very clever hybrid of some of the divertissements(including Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy) incorporated in a colourful sequence involving sprites and figurines, and I for one enjoyed the ballet sequences with their nimble choreography and the dream-like strangeness they gave. Other parts of the soundtrack don't fare so much, the use of 70s synthesised music feels out of place and tonally at odds with Tchaikovsky's music, it also causes some tone shifts that are both jarring and awkward(a complaint that some people here have as well). A few songs were written for the film and they are decent if a little too upbeat, Christopher Lee even gets a chance to sing and he actually has got a good singing voice.
Narratively the story in Nutcracker Fantasy is based somewhat loosely on the original story(notably having a Mouse Queen in Morphia as the primary villain) but the original story itself is whimsical, magical, poignant and dark- people may not recognise the Nutcracker as having a darker elements but in Hoffmann's telling the Mouse King is more villainous and sadistic than he is often portrayed as- and Nutcracker Fantasy has all of those elements. While there are differences in the details, though the Princess Mary story is oddly reminiscent of that of Princess Pirlipat in the original(a part that is often omitted, though it's included in The Nutcracker Prince), but the spirit remains. And there are some truly memorable scenes, the most notable one being the genuinely scary opening Ragman sequence, it gave me nightmares as a child and still gives me the creeps now, though in a thrilling kind of way.
The characters are very engaging, Clara is an immensely charming heroine, Queen Morphia is a very menacingly memorable villain and Drosselmeyer is wonderfully mysterious. The voice acting is terrific, with a brilliant Christopher Lee in multiple roles being particularly notable. Clara is voiced as a child by Melissa Gilbert with spirit and charm and with sincerity as an adult in a narrator kind of role by Michele Lee. Morphia is voiced with sinister relish by Jo Anne Worley and there is also a dashing Roddy MacDowell as Franz and Eva Gabor is at her most mysterious as Queen of Time. All in all, has an uneven soundtrack but Nutcracker Fantasy is a little gem. 8/10 Bethany Cox