Perhaps it's seeing Disney's latest, "The Rescuers Down Under," just one week before "The Nutcracker Prince" - but, boy, does "Nutcracker" pale in comparison.
So, trying to judge this film solely on its own merits, let's see what it has to offer: not much.An adaptation of E.T.A. Hoffmann's story "The Nutcracker and the Mouseking," the Canadian film "The Nutcracker Prince" has old clockmaker Drosselmeier giving a nutcracker in the form of a toy soldier to young Clara at Christmas. He tells her the story of a young lad named Hans who was turned into a nutcracker by an evil mouseking, and thereafter Clara dreams a fantastic tale about her own toys coming to life and defending themselves against the mouseking - who looks more like a rat - and his henchmice.
But is it a dream?
In her real life, Clara is plagued by a snooty older sister and a mischievous younger brother, but in this fantasy world she teams up with the nutcracker, who is prince of the toys, and several dolls and soldiers as they defend themselves against the nasty mice.
There are silly anachronisms to spare, ranging from modern colloquialisms to a doll with a Southern accent - in Old World Germany! Youngsters in the audience seemed to enjoy a brief sequence early on that shifts to a more abstract form of animation to tell the story of how the boy became a nutcracker, loaded with off-the-wall gags.
And most of this is pretty innocuous stuff, but it's also poorly animated, with stiff caricatures that are fairly expressionless, and laced with humor that is childish at best and simple-minded at worst. There's even a recycled motif that marks modern horror movies - the killer-that-wouldn't-die syndrome, as the chief villain is seemingly dead but comes back for more anyway.
There is, of course, Tchaikovsky's music in the background, though it comes and goes without much rhyme or reason. But when one theme is reworked as a mundane song for Clara, it's too much.
Peanut Gallery Assessment: My 7-year-old enjoyed it somewhat, but my children who are 9, 11 and 13 didn't like it at all. On the other hand, all of them thoroughly enjoyed "The Rescuers Down Under." As they did "Home Alone," for that matter.