The magical Christmas fantasy, The Nutcracker, is released this month on DVD as Nutcracker:The Motion Picture. The film version of Tchaikovsky’s ever adored ballet is adapted for the big screen from the hugely successful award winning 1983 version performed by Pacific Northwest Ballet. With exquisite design from Maurice Sendak (Where The Wild Things Are) and creative involvement from Henry Selick (The Nightmare Before Christmas) this is both magical and fantastical and mixes the traditional theatrical staging of the ballet with lush series of environments which effectively offers us illustrations of a story book bought to life. In this film elements of story and stage-play mix with a narrative structure that can cut between the real world and the dream world where toys, sweets and symbolism (for the older viewer) combine in a charming depiction of the tale; with dance and music for children of all ages.
It is Christmas Eve and at the Stahlbaum home the guests are arriving to celebrate the festive season with a party. When Clara Stahlbaum’s (Vanessa Sharp) godfather Herr Drosselmeier (Hugh Bigney) arrives he has, as expected, brought her a present. It is a model of a soldier which is also a nutcracker, a fascinating gift that she is so intrigued with, she sneakily slips away downstairs to examine him again after everyone has gone to bed. As midnight strikes Clara (now Patricia Barker) is transported to an enchanting world where anything can happen and often does, where her gift has transformed into a handsome Nutcracker Prince (Wade Walthall). The pair travel to many different locations and experience a host of wonderful dances. Will she awake or does she even want to?
A series of fairytale stories and encounters are bought to life by the Pacific Northwest Ballet, in a production that is tightly choreographed to take the form succinctly from one fantastical scene to the next, regardless of the number of characters required to play in each. In filming a theatrical ballet without shying from depicting the intimacy of dancing for the stage, the film uses its cinematic structure to integrate the world of the theatre into the world of film, particularly with the use of scenes that are part staged, part illustrated and part film. The flowing of water and boats is akin to animated illustrative stage models. The depiction of automata that become human within some scenes recall elements of Powell and Pressberger’s Tales of Hoffmann. Like many folk stories and fairy-tales this offers enjoyment at each new event and discovery but also has a subtext that, whilst being centred on its youthful protagonist and her situation having broken the Christmas code to re-seek her gift with consequences that may or may not be true, is also about coming of age and the realities (albeit fantastically depicted) of adulthood and its dangers, temptations and burdens.
With Tchaikovsky’s glorious score this is, musically, as memorable and engaging as ever. Nutcracker:The Motion Picture transports ballet to the world of the DVD very well, with its combination of perfectly choreographed dancing and exquisitely designed costumes, background and set props. Adventure, magic and dance combine as Christmas beckons for Clara.