"The Nutcracker Prince," an awkwardly directed, badly drawn animated feature, wheezes toward its familiar climax like an arthritic ballerina in 50-pound dancing shoes. Laborious and saccharine, this Canadian adaptation extracts all grace and relevance from the classic enchantment, as well as all immortality and magic from Tchaikovsky's lovely score. It's an embarrassment of travesties.

Written by Patricia Watson and directed by Paul Schibli, the movie reflects but does not accurately mirror the psychologically disturbing story of Clara, a young girl who wrestles with coming of age in both book and ballet. And what was an enriching tale full of delights and shivers becomes as shallow as sugarcoating in Watson's witless scenario.

Megan Follows gives voice to Clara's nattering and simpering, while Kiefer Sutherland speaks for the Nutcracker Prince she finds beneath her Christmas tree. When the Nutcracker and the rest of the toys come to life as the clock strikes 12, Clara helps him break the spell that transformed him from prince to kitchen utensil. They are aided by an old toy soldier, Pantaloon (Peter O'Toole), and Uncle Drosselmeier (Peter Boretski), the wizardly relative who apparently engineers the whole business for his niece's holiday enjoyment.

Phyllis Diller cackles and shrieks as the vengeful Mousequeen, who puts the spell on the Prince in an even more dreadful flashback cartoon within the cartoon. Noble young suitors try to break the "crackatooth" nut to win the cartoon princess's hand, but their teeth shatter and fall to the ground. When the hero manages to break the shell, the Mousequeen turns him into Clara's Nutcracker. Only after winning a Christmas Eve battle with the Mouseking (Mike MacDonald) can the Nutcracker resume his human form.

"The Nutcracker Prince" lacks not only the classic story line but reverence for one's fondest memories of childhood -- simply believing that all things are possible if only for one night a year. I'd sooner hear Handel's "Messiah" played on Tupperware than behold this cheap debacle again.

The Nutcracker Prince, at area theaters, is rated G.