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George Balanchine's 'The Nutcracker' Reviews

This faithful filming of late choreographer George Balanchine's ballet "The Nutcracker" is a feast for fans of classical dance. The Stahlbaum family is preparing for a lavish Christmas party, and little Marie (Jessica Lynn Cohen) and her mischievous brother Fritz (Peter Reznick) wait anxiously for the fun to begin. The guests arrive, and as the adults make polite conversation, the childen play games. The arrival of Marie's godfather, the mysterious Herr Drosselmeier (Bart Robinson Cook), causes a minor stir, and he delights the guests with magic tricks and the antics of a pair of life-sized mechanical dolls. Marie and Drosselmeier's nephew (Macaulay Culkin), a polite, unusually mature boy, strike up an acquaintance. Drosselmeier gives Marie a nutcracker doll, which Fritz tramples in a fit of childish pique, and as the party draws to a close, Marie and Drosselmeier's nephew bid one another farewell. That night, Marie creeps into the parlor to sleep in front of the Christmas tree with her nutcracker, whose broken jaw has been lovingly bandaged. She falls asleep, and magical things occur. The tree grows to monumental proportions, and Marie is menaced by scurrying giant mice, led by the nine-headed Mouse King. She's rescued by the Nutcracker, which has also grown, and his platoon of toy soldiers. After the battle, the Nutcracker is transformed into a handsome prince, who looks exactly like Drosselmeier's nephew. Marie and the Nutcracker Prince are whisked off to the enchanted land of the sweets, where they watch a series of food-inspired dances--variations on the themes of coffee, tea, hot chocolate, candied ginger, marzipan, candy canes, crystallized flowers and sugarplums--and are finally carried heavenward in a flying sleigh. GEORGE BALANCHINE'S "THE NUTCRACKER" is a carefully photographed record of one of the best known ballets in America. On stage, "The Nutcracker" (in Balanchine's interpretation an old-fashioned fairy tale with no grim moral or dark psychological underpinnings) is a traditional holiday outing that attracts audiences with no other interest in classical ballet, and this film preserves for future generations the dancing of a fine cast, including New York City Ballet stars Darci Kistler, Kyra Nichols, Damian Woetzel, and Wendy Whelan. Child idol MacCaulay Culkin--who once studied ballet at NYCB's school, the School of American Ballet--is a casting coup, intended to attract mainstream viewers, but he's not in the same league as the adult dancers, or even little Jessica Lynn Cohen, a charming Marie. Pouty and excessively made up, Culkin displays none of the charm for which he's famous. Directed by Emile Ardolino, who began his career filming dance for public television, THE NUTCRACKER is respectful and attentive to the details of choreography, staging and lavish decor and costuming, but can't be called a translation of the stage production to the screen. Although several brief transitional scenes, special effects--notably the growing tree and a truly thrilling flying bed--and an annoying explanatory voice-over narration by Kevin Kline have been added, the movie is principally a record of a theatrical performance (though shot under carefully controlled conditions), and its main attraction is glorious dancing. GEORGE BALANCHINE'S THE NUTCRACKER is a film for ballet fans, and others are unlikely to fall under its spell.