On Friday nights — and special occasions! — IndieWire After Dark takes a feature-length beat to honor fringe cinema in the streaming age. 

First, the spoiler-free pitch for one editor’s midnight movie pick — something weird and wonderful from any age of film that deserves our memorializing. 

Then, the spoiler-filled aftermath as experienced by the unwitting editor attacked by this week’s recommendation.

The Pitch: Wait for Santa to Get a Load of These Nuts

There’s no doubt in my mind that Santa is a midnight movie fan.

A famed night owl with a criminal streak, ol’ Kris Kringle seems like just the sort of cinephile who would fit in with the IndieWire After Dark crowd. Sure, he would probably be more inclined towards the Christmas projects that feed his ego than a cheap “Sausage Party” predecessor with some of the most unpleasant computer-animated cheese ever melted into imagination. But if you leave this straight-to-video monstrosity from 1999 streaming near your chimney tonight, then you might just catch the big guy off-guard enough to make him stay awhile. Don’t worry; it won’t be awkward. He’s not even in it!

Woefully rendered in a post-“Toy Story” mania for CBS, “The Nuttiest Nutcracker” comes from Columbia TriStar Home Video and Dan Krech Productions and centers on Marie (Debi Derryberry, AKA the voice of Jimmy Neutron): a little girl left at home without her parents on Christmas Eve. When Marie’s Uncle Drosselmeyer (genre legend Jim Cummings) gifts her a nutcracker for the holiday, he comes alive as a prince (Cam Clarke) and our kid hero is put on a collision course with the villainous Reginald the Mouse King (Jim Belushi): a military general/cheese overlord/interspecies pervert intent on stealing the Christmas Star and ending the seasonal celebration…forever.

Adapted from “The Nutcracker” ballet in the same sense that “Veggie Tales” adapts The Bible — which is to say, to a “t” and without fault — “Nuttiest” makes madcap narrative garland from 48 minutes of nonsensical story turns featuring talking fruits, veggies, and nuts as well as a swarm of surprisingly cute mice minutemen. Why can the food and rodent, but nothing else talk in this universe? No clue. Phyllis Diller lends her voice to the Sugar Plum Fairy (here, an actual sugar plum) among a surprisingly strong cast also featuring Cheech Marin as a Macadamia nut.

Although viewers don’t get a one-to-one culinary rendition of the Tchaikovsky masterwork (that’s a real shame too, considering the untapped Mother Ginger potential), you shouldn’t wholly discount the sometimes catchy original music. Suffice to say, even having seen “Nuttiest” dozen of times, there’s only one song I can name — but “The Big Cheese” will play at my funeral.

Whether you’re wrapping presents for your sleeping kids or waiting up to ask Santa about his Letterboxd, consider garnishing your late-night Christmas Eve with this singularly strange tribute to holiday adventure. From tutu-wearing broccoli and gassy beans to a little peanut (Tress MacNeille) that could give the Baby Planters Nut a run for his money, these stars shine brightest on a winter’s night like this. —AF

The Aftermath: I Wish We Met Under Better Circumstances, Tchaikovsky

Without Googling anything, here is all of the knowledge relating to “The Nutcracker” that I had before I sat down to watch this CGI nightmare:

  1. It’s a Tchaikovsky ballet that is at least tangentially related to Christmas, and presumably involves a nutcracker.
  2. Sugarplum fairies make an appearance and (I assume) do a dance.
  3. I’m like 60% sure that it involves something relating to wooden reed flutes?

All of which is to say that, despite my theatre history degree, “The Nutcracker” has always been a cultural blindspot for me. I didn’t have any hostility towards it, but it kept slipping through the crack that exists between my desire to be cultured and the reality that I was never going to devote any of my increasingly sparse free time to a Christmas ballet. So for better or worse, “The Nuttiest Nutcracker” served as my official introduction to the source material. And what an introduction it was.

When Foreman told me we were watching something called “The Nuttiest Nutcracker,” I assumed that the term “nuttiest” was equivalent to “wackiest.” It never crossed my mind that we would be watching something about anthropomorphic tree nuts that appeared to be animated by an unpaid intern at a bowling alley graphics company. (I was quite distressed by the fact that the filmmakers were incapable of crafting a functioning mouth but eerily skilled at capturing the leathery, skin-like texture of a walnut shell.) But there was no time to nitpick any individual detail, since every frame of this sleazy ode to Tchaikovsky bombarded me with a new creative choice at which to be baffled.

In addition to the aforementioned “Big Cheese” song, there was… a gospel singer nut who exclusively dressed in Rastafarian garb? And a trio of dancing black-eyed peas who gave off the most murderous vibes I’ve ever seen from a legume? And a handsome prince whose voice=-acting was as robotically incoherent as the rudimentary animation that rendered him? (Editor’s note: Fun fact, Cam Clarke was the voice of Leonardo in the 1987 “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” cartoon!)

I always have a great time on my archeological digs through the batshit crazy early years of computer animation, and this was no exception. The only real downside is that so many of my formative memories of “The Nutcracker” will be forever linked to this nonsense. Perhaps my New Year’s resolution should be to see “Swan Lake” and “The Magic Flute” before some direct-to-video relic about dancing allergens ruins them for me. —CZ

Those brave enough to join in on the fun can stream “The Nuttiest Nutcracker” through various VOD rental platforms, including Amazon Prime Video. IndieWire After Dark publishes midnight movie recommendations at 11:59 p.m. ET every Friday. Read more of our deranged suggestions from the 2023 holiday season…

  • Tim Curry Will Shake Your Soul in Gleefully Noxious ‘Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas’
  • ‘Santa and the Ice Cream’ Bunny Is a Hauntingly Odd Christmas Fairy Tale That Should Be Kept from Children at All Costs
  • Ski Lift Survival Horror ‘Frozen’ (2010) Is Still the Best Cinematic Homonym in the Game
  • ‘Christmas Comes to Pac-Land’ Is the Chomp-Filled ’80s Christmas Relic You Never Knew You Needed
  • The Late Julian Sands Blows the Lid Off Hulu’s Holiday Horror Comedy ‘A Nasty Piece of Work’
  • ‘The Yattering and Jack’ Warns Against Satanic Turkey Preparation This Thanksgiving Eve

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