The catastrophically clumsy Hungarian/British co-production The Nutcracker In 3D isn’t the first project to add lyrics to Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker ballet, or to assume that the presence of dancing fairies, snowflakes, and toys requires the most cloying, cutesy interpretation possible. But Nutcracker In 3D doesn’t just compound past errors in re-imagining the story. Thanks to a big budget, huge staging, massive overacting, and the non-wonders of post-production 3-D conversion, it adds a wide bevy of new errors. At best, it’s a dully lavish, overblown fantasy, a companion piece to The Golden Compass in finding ways to overstretch thrilling material and turn it into a random mishmash of limping setpieces. At worst, it’s a joke, an exercise in treacly bad taste, a $90 million pain in the retinas.
The problems start with the titular 3-D, which rivals The Last Airbender for muddiness when the camera is moving, and distracting planar confusion at all other times. Characters in partial profile appear to have one eye on an entirely different visual plane from another; it’s often hard to tell where objects are relative to each other, or where they are at all during the frequent pans. But even in 2-D, the film would have such distractions as Nathan Lane breaking the fourth wall to absolutely no purpose (playing a dotty Einstein-like uncle who occasionally offers meaningless comments to the audience), and horrifically stiff, similarly purposeless songs sung/chanted to some of the Nutcracker’s most memorable tunes. Elle Fanning is suitably charming as a girl drawn into a vividly designed fantasyland of fairies and talking toys, where a boy prince (Charlie Rowe) attempts to escape the curse that transformed him into a wooden nutcracker. His adversary is an evil rat king played by John Turturro, who’s sometimes a hoot to watch when in his hammiest mode. But here, he looks like Andy Warhol trying to play Cabaret’s emcee, and the embarrassing songs do him no favors, either.
There’s often some enjoyment in watching stars gamely take on ridiculous material, but Nutcracker In 3D’s random assemblage of underdeveloped characters, half-baked-then-abandoned subplots, and empty character vamping induces more yawns than gapes. Add on a needless, creepy series of references to Freud and to the Third Reich—Turturro’s Nazi-uniformed heavies round up their ragged subjects and force their toys into giant, smoke-belching furnaces, in the most twee retelling of the Holocaust imaginable—and the entire thing joins the ranks of Dune and Super Mario Bros. in the annals of films so obsessed with visual design that the ridiculousness of all other aspects of production somehow went unnoticed.