When I picture the holiday season, there are several traditions that always come to mind, like decorating the Christmas tree, wrapping presents, and building snowmen. But the biggest of them is watching a performance of the ballet The Nutcracker. From the elaborate stage and prop design to the skilled dancing, it is difficult to not get whisked away into the magical world of fighting mice and the Sugar Plum Fairy.
Based on Alexandre Dumas’s The Nutcracker, a rip-off of E.T.A. Hoffmann’s classic children’s story The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, the ballet begins with Clara (called Marie in E.T.A. Hoffman’s story) and her family hosting their annual Christmas Eve party. The guests drink and make merry until godfather Drosselmeyer arrives bearing gifts. Unsatisfied with his own present, Clara’s brother, Fritz, grabs her nutcracker and breaks it. The party abruptly ends and the children are sent to bed. Worried about her nutcracker, Clara awakens in the middle of the night and is surprised to find Godfather Drosselmeyer, who transforms her nutcracker into a living Nutcracker Prince. They find themselves caught in the middle of a battle between the house mice and toy soldiers. With Clara’s help, the Nutcracker successfully defeats the Mouse King and whisks her off to the land of the Sugar Plum Fairy, where they are welcomed as honored guests. Clara awakes the following morning wondering if the whole experience had just been a dream.
Now, I know what you might be thinking…I hate ballet. That’s understandable; the combination of mime and dancing to Tchaikovsky’s score isn’t for everyone! But the story is worth reading, and if you can’t stomach going to see the ballet itself, I’ve compiled a list of other popular (and bizarre) references and adaptations of this iconic holiday book.
Courage the Cowardly Dog
In an episode called “The Nutcracker” which premiered during season four of Courage the Cowardly Dog, Courage and his elderly owners, Muriel and Eustace, take a trip to the local junkyard to search for useful trash. While digging, Muriel discovers a beautiful antique nutcracker. Courage realizes, with panic, that the sounds the nutcracker emits draw the attention of two life-sized, man-eating rats. Courage saves Muriel and Eustace from impending doom, while running around to the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, Waltz of the Flowers, and the Candy Canes (Russian Dance) ballet music.
Tom and Jerry
The infamous cat and mouse duo star in their own Nutcracker story in the 2007 movie Tom and Jerry: A Nutcracker Tale. At the beginning of the movie, Jerry and his nephew are shown watching The Nutcracker ballet. After the performance, Jerry wanders down to the stage and is greeted by a group of toys who have come magically to life. The Ballerina Princess doll invites Jerry to dine with her and the other toys. While eating their dinner, the friends are suddenly attacked by Tom and his army of cats. Chaos ensues and the rest of the episode plays out in traditional Tom and Jerry style, with the two fighting and trying to outsmart each other. Accompanied to music from The Nutcracker, the movie provides a modern, action-packed re-telling of the classic story.
Barbie brings a loose adaptation of E.T.A. Hoffmann’s story alive in her first movie, Barbie in the Nutcracker (2001). While practicing for an upcoming performance, Barbie’s friend, Kelly, develops a strong case of stage fright. To console her, Barbie tells the story of The Nutcracker. The beginning of the movie follows the original story pretty closely, with just a few name change and character additions. After falling asleep under the Christmas tree, Clara (played by Barbie) awakens to find her nutcracker has come to life. A battle ensues between the armies of the Mouse King and Nutcracker Prince, with the Mouse King eventually retreating to regroup. Clara and the Nutcracker journey through the Land of Parthenia, Sea of Storms, and Sugarplum Princess Island, in search of the Sugarplum Princess, the only person who can defeat the Mouse King. The movie is set to Tchaikovsky’s original music, with the animation modeled after real New York City Ballet dancers.
The Magic School
In The Magic School Bus’s episode “Family Holiday Special,” Ms. Frizzle’s students sort through items at a recycling center. Wanda tells her friends that she will be seeing The Nutcracker ballet later that night. For admission into the performance, people are encouraged to donate toys to children in need, so Wanda has brought a toy nutcracker with her. Mistaking Wanda’s nutcracker as one of the recyclable items, Arnold accidently shreds in into plastic pellets. To teach them the importance of recycling, Ms. Frizzle takes her students into a world where recycling does not exist. With music from The Nutcracker and lessons about environmental care from Ms. Frizzle, what’s not to love?
The Nutcracker in 3D
This film adaptation of The Nutcracker might make you wonder how anyone on earth thought that making the movie was a good idea. Starring Elle Fanning and Nathan Lane (who are both better than this), The Nutcracker in 3D (2009) bombed so badly at the box office that it’s unsurprising if you have never heard of it. The story follows Mary as she takes an Alice in Wonderland type of fall into a new world. Mary and the nutcracker (or N.C. as he’s called in this film) discover that N.C.’s kingdom has been taken over by a Nazi-like Rat King—who weirdly resembles a Dr. Seuss character. Fantasy and fascism collide in this bizarre spinoff.
Do you have a favorite adaptation of The Nutcracker, or do you prefer seeing the ballet live?