This Movie Makes No Sense: “The Nutcracker: The Untold Story”


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There are good movies and bad movies.  And then there are those movies that defy easy categorizations.  The inexplicable, the incomprehensible, the indecipherable: these are the movies that make no sense.  And that’s why we love them.

Right down to the core of its conception, “The Nutcracker in 3D” — now known on video in 2D as “The Nutcracker: The Untold Story” — makes no sense. Its director, Andrey Konchalovskiy, worked on this adaptation of Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” ballet for twenty years. Can you imagine spending twenty years of your life on a single work of art? You’d have to be obsessed. So here’s what Konachlovskiy had to say about his obsession with “The Nutcracker” from the film’s making-of documentary:

“When you’re analyzing the ballet, you realize there are two parts, and the first part is the story and by the end of the first part, the Mice King has already failed.  The second part is just potpourri and celebration.  There’s no story anymore.  So in a sense, it was impossible to follow the story that was written for ballet.  So when I started to think about the film in different terms, I realized it’s just a fairy tale.  And you cannot make a fairy tale with big chunks of dance.  So then I returned to the source [E.T.A. Hoffmann’s story “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King”], where evil exists.  And Hoffman’s story is much more deep and philosophical and interesting than the quite poor story of the Tchaikovsky ballet.”

Okay, so clearly he wasn’t that obsessed with “The Nutcracker.” In fact, it kind of sounds like he doesn’t like “The Nutcracker” at all. And yet he still spent twenty years trying to adapt it. His eventual solution was to remove all the ballet from the ballet and replace its “quite poor story.” Andrey, I’m sorry. When you turn “The Nutcracker” into the adventure of a little girl and an obnoxious toy fighting giant rats dressed like Nazis who dance and occasionally electrocute sharks, you lose the right to call anything a “quite poor story.” That’s just how it works.

Konachlovskiy’s desire to make “The Nutcracker” by stripping it of its inherent Nutcrackeryness makes no sense. That’s like making a Batman movie where Bruce Wayne never puts on a bat costume. Do you think Warner Brothers would give me $90 million to make that “Batman?” Because that’s how much money Konachlovskiy was able to get to make his deranged version of “The Nutcracker.” $90 million bucks. For dancing, shark electrocuting Nazi rat people.

I understand “The Nutcracker” name has brand recognition. But it has brand recognition as a ballet. Reimagining classic material has its place, but it’s a task that requires sensitivity, thoughtfulness, and a true willingness to break from precedent. Konachlovskiy tried to have it both ways. He didn’t like the ballet’s story, refused to include ballet dancing, but he still kept Tchaikovsky’s music. Even worse, he had Tim Rice (“Beauty and the Beast,” “The Lion King”) write lyrics to Tchaikovsky’s music and made the cast sing them as conventional musical numbers.

Well maybe “conventional” isn’t the right word. A “conventional” musical would not feature Albert Einstein — played by Nathan Lane — teaching children about the theory of relativity through a song called “It’s All Relative.” Ballet, that doesn’t work in a fairy tale. But Albert Einstein singing about physics? Perfect match!

Technically, Lane’s character is only referred to as the main child protagonists’ “Uncle Albert,” but he looks like Einstein, talks in a thick German accent, and peppers his dialogue with famous Einstein quotes like “Reality is an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.” This leaves only two possibilities. One: the character really is Albert Einstein. Or, two: these children’s uncle is a schizophrenic named Albert who thinks he’s Einstein. That certainly would explain a)why Uncle Albert is the only person in the film to speak in a German accent, b)why the children’s parents seem so uncomfortable leaving Uncle Albert alone with their kids, c)why Einstein, who was Jewish, is so enthusiastically celebrating Christmas, and d)why Einstein frequently breaks the fourth wall to speak directly to the audience (i.e. he’s clinically insane and he can’t distinguish between fantasy and reality).

Such mental illness would put him in good company with the rest of his family. His niece, Mary (Elle Fanning), suffers from similar delusions. After Uncle Albert brings her and her brother Max (Aaron Michael Drozin) a nutcracker toy for Christmas (and after he sings to them about how all motion is relative), Mary imagines that the Nutcracker comes to life and enlists her help in his ongoing war with The Rat King. The Rat King — John Turturro in an Andy Warhol wig and prosthetic rodent nose — has taken control of the Nutcracker’s kingdom. He also transformed “NC,” as he likes to be called, from a boy into a wooden toy. And he employed a rat army dressed like Nazi stormtroopers to steal children’s toys and burn them in his “smoke factory” in order to blot out the sun.

And thus we come to another crucial element of the film that makes no sense — the weird Nazi imagery. The Rat King gives Hitler-esque speeches about liquidating the human population to make way for the rats, his soldiers are garbed in black leather, jackboots, and helmets, and his smoke factories evoke clear associations with gas chambers and prison labor camps. This stuff might make a little sense if the film was set in Nazi Germany, and these fantasies were a child’s way of understanding the madness of war (a la Guillermo del Toro’s “Pan’s Labyrinth”). But “The Nutcracker in 3D The Untold Story” appears to be set in peaceful 1920s Vienna — hence the appearance of figures like Einstein and Sigmund Freud, who also makes a cameo. So Mary’s imagination invented or somehow predicted the Holocaust? How does that work any better in the context of a fairy tale than a ballet?

It doesn’t. “The Nutcracker: The Untold Story” is one of the most mesmerizingly misguided films of all time. Nothing about it makes sense. If the movie is set in Vienna, and Uncle Albert has a German accent, why do Mary and Max have American ones? And why do their parents have British ones? And why are there so many rat puns in the screenplay (“You dirty rat!”)? Was it written by Arnold Schwarzenegger? Why get rid of ballet dancing and replace it with terrible song and dance numbers? And why the hell does The Rat King have a giant shark in his throne room? And why does he electrocute it at the end of his big production number? Does he bring in a new shark every time he feels like singing? “In case of goose-stepping emergency, break shark?”

“The Nutcracker: The Untold Story” is not a movie that’s “so bad it’s good,” like “Plan 9 From Outer Space.” It’s not characterized by ineptitude, at least not on a technical level. The execution of the CGI, prosthetic makeup, and production design is sharp. It’s just that the ideas underpinning that execution are so goddamn bizarre. It shouldn’t be possible to work on a single film for twenty years and wind up with this. All reality must be an illusion. There’s no way “The Nutcracker: The Untold Story” actually exists.

“The Nutcracker: The Untold Story” is available on DVD and Blu-ray. If you see it, let us know what you think of it in the comments below or on Facebook and Twitter.


Benders Tonight

5 Ways to Get Ready For Tonight’s All-New Benders

Catch Benders tonight at 10P on IFC

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Thank Chubbys it’s Thursday! Follow these tips for preparing for tonight’s brand new Benders if you want to end the week in style.

1. Throw a Chickenpox Party.

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Beer helps cure chicken pox, right?

2. Get Your Flu Shot.

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Just a friendly reminder that it’s cold and flu season. You don’t want to empty the contents of your stomach during your next game of floor hockey like poor Sebalos. Serious party foul, bro.

3. Recruit Some Friends

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Get your friends on Team Uncle Chubbys with this recruitment video.

4. Practice the “What up, bro?” Move.

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Your bros will never know what hit them.

5. Prepare for The Force to Awaken in You.


There is no try when it comes to chugging beer. Do like the Benders or do not.


Music and 'Staches

The 10 Most Epic Examples of Facial Hair in Soft Rock

Catch the story of Blue Jean Committee tonight on the season finale of Documentary Now!.

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Documentary Now! closes out its 50th season this week with the film “Gentle & Soft: The Story of the Blue Jean Committee,” a Behind the Music-style look at the rise and fall of one of the most successful purveyors of mellow, California-style soft rock. Despite the fact that the members of BJC hailed from Chicago, their hits like “Catalina Breeze” fit in perfectly with contemporaries like Kenny Loggins, Hall & Oates, Poco and other giants of “Yacht Rock.” (The band’s feathered hair and awesome ‘staches also helped.)

In honor of the Blue Jean Committee’s story finally being told, check out our tribute to the most epic facial hair in soft rock.

10. Paul Davis

The bearded “I Go Crazy” singer gets extra points for his luxurious mane of blonde hair.

9. Seals and Crofts

“Summer Breeze” makes us feel fine and so does the one-two punch of Seals & Crofts’ mesmerizing beard/goatee combo.

8. Rupert Holmes

Mr. Holmes’ neatly trimmed beard doesn’t excuse the fact that he was using the personals column to cheat on his lady. “The Pina Colada Song” is basically the Ashley Madison of its day.

7. Pretty much every member of Orleans

The ’70s bros in Orleans loved two things — beards and going shirtless on album covers.

6. England Dan and John Ford Coley

Ladies, these guys (and their mustaches) would really love to see you tonight.

5. Bobby Kimball from Toto

You might remember Toto for their monster soft rock jams “Rosanna” and “Africa.” But if you’re like us, you see the majestic follicles of singer Bobby Kimball’s mustache when you close your eyes and drift away on a blissful wave of smooth.

4. Both Guys in Dr. Hook

The “Sexy Eyes” and “When You’re in Love With a Beautiful Woman” band is a facial hair two-fer, thanks to Ray Sawyer’s awesome mustache and Dennis Locorriere’s respectable beard.

3. Michael McDonald

Possessing a set of velvety pipes that have brought weaker men to their knees, The Mighty Beard of Michael McDonald has remained strong since his days in The Doobie Brothers.

2. John Oates, Hall & Oates

Word is Daryl Hall is a major BJC fan, but we have to salute his musical partner’s famous lip magic.

1. Kenny Loggins

Besides being a ’80s soundtrack master, Loggins possesses some of the greatest facial hair in pop culture. Bask in the glory that is Loggins on Documentary Now! tonight at 10P.


Todd Margaret Returns

David Cross and Todd Margaret Are Returning to IFC In January

Todd Margaret returns to IFC on January 7th, 2016.

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Crack open your stockpiled hoards of Thunder Muscle, because David Cross’ series Todd Margaret is returning to IFC for a third season. The show will return on Thursday, January 7th, 2016 with the first three episodes of the six-episode series airing back-to-back beginning at 10PM ET/PT. The remaining three episodes will premiere the following week on Thursday, January 14th at 10pm ET/PT.

Season two of Todd Margaret ended with a literal bang, with Todd blowing up the world as he continued to make increasingly poor decisions in his role as an American titan of industry. “Since we last saw Todd Margaret, which we thought was actually the last time we’d see him, this show has become a favorite among comedy fans,” commented Jennifer Caserta, IFC’s president. “Only David Cross could write his way around destroying the world to resurrect this character and story in a way that’s mind blowing and completely hilarious.”

In season three, fans will meet a very different Todd as the creators guide him on a journey which goes to some truly unexpected places. In addition to Cross, the new season will feature Jack McBrayer (30 Rock) along with Will Arnett (Arrested Development, BoJack Horseman), Blake Harrison (The Inbetweeners 2), Sharon Horgan (Catastrophe), Amber Tamblyn (Two and a Half Men) and Russ Tamblyn (Django Unchained), who return to the series playing familiar characters…with a twist. Check back for more Todd Margaret updates as we head to the big premiere in January.


This Week on IFC

Benders Meet a Soprano, Gigi Writes a Book and Comedy Bang! Bang! is Back!

Thursday on IFC is the place to be starting at 10P.

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After Benders big premiere last week, the guys meet an actual Soprano. That’s right, Bobby Baccalieri himself, Steve Schirripa, guest stars as a tough guy shaking down the crew. Check out a clip below, and tune in on Thursday at 10P to see if any of the Uncle Chubbys crew gets whacked.

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On the second episode of Gigi Does It, Gigi Rotblum has a plan to get her grandson to respect his elders – she’s going to write a children’s book, just like the one by Harry Potter author J.K. Simmons. Gigi Does It airs on Thursday at 10:30P. Watch a sneak peek below.

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And, finally, as a thank you for waiting patiently for the return of Comedy Bang! Bang!, check out a list of the show’s top 5 “beefs.” Does Fourvel make an appearance? Watch below, and be sure to catch the return of Comedy Bang! Bang! in its NEW TIME SLOT Thursdays at 11P.

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