A young girl named Clara is given what seems to be a pretty ordinary Nutcracker doll by her Uncle Drosselmeir, but she soon finds herself swept up in an almost dream-like war between the Mouse King and the Nutcracker Prince, who is her doll come to life.
It's Christmas! At a household seemingly like any other household, the parents are enjoying the new tree with their three children: Louise, Clara and Fritz. After opening their presents, guests start to arrive for the Christmas party. One guest in particular is Uncle Drosselmeir, who gives the family an intricate toy castle, and gives Clara a Nutcracker. Ah, but it is not just any Nutcracker, Uncle Drosselmeir warns her. The Nutcracker used to be a human boy, Uncle Drosselmeir says, but after he (the boy) broke a spell the Mouse Queen had placed over a princess, he had been cursed to become a Nutcracker Prince.
At first it all seems to be just another fairy story to Clara. (And though she does enjoy a good fairy story, they are just that... stories.) That night, after everyone has gone to bed, Clara steals downstairs to dance with her new Nutcracker. But suddenly the Mouse King appears, intent on extracting the revenge he believes the Nutcracker owes him. And right then, before Clara's eyes, the Nutcracker comes to life, thus starting a strange dream-like war between dolls and mice.
This movie charmed me over from the first time I watched it, which was at a friend's house. It has its flaws, and is overly fluffy at a number of places, but honestly, I don't care. The Nutcracker Prince and Clara make one of my favourite animated couples ever, due to sheer sweetness. And Clara is one of my favourite dreamy protagonist girls (animated or not), alongside Dorothy (Return to Oz), Sarah (Labyrinth) and Gerda (The Snow Queen). Like many others, The Nutcracker Prince is about the young girl's coming of age. There are numerous parallels between Clara and Peter Pan's Wendy, the most notable being that both girls turned down the chance to live in their fantasy land in order to grow up.
The best sequence in the movie (to me) has got to be the story within the story, that is, Uncle Drosselmeir's tale of how the Nutcracker came to be. It was an absolutely inspired decision to use a more crude storybook-style animation style for that sequence. Firstly, it gives the storytelling a more "fairy tale" feel; secondly, it makes the rest of the movie seem all the more "real"; and thirdly, it makes the audience all the more interested in Hans, the boy who becomes the Nutcracker. Seeing him in his "fairy tale" appearance, we want to know more about how he looks like for "real", which makes the pay-off later all the more worth it. (Kinda like how by the end of Beauty and the Beast we want nothing more than to see what Lumiere, Cogsworth and Mrs Potts look like as humans.)
I've always found it delightfully ironic that Princess Pirlipat, despite her set up in the story (being beautiful and "all that") was not the true heroine of the story. And I like to think that the "real" Princess Pirlipat looks like Sleeping Beauty's Aurora.
I really liked the voice actors they used for The Nutcracker Prince. The ones that stood out the most were Phyllis Diller as The Mouse Queen (she also voiced the Queen of A Bug's Life), Megan Follows as Clara (she was my definitive Anne of Green Gables) and Kiefer Sutherland as the Nutcracker (his husky vocals almost seem out of place in a kid's movie, but what the hey).
This movie of The Nutcracker Prince is (in my view) one of the most honest adaptations of of E.T.A. Hoffman's tale The Nutcracker and the Mouse King. While the more famous version is the Nutcracker ballet, that adaptation lingers more on the other-worldliness of the Land of the Dolls, with long interludes for the Sugar Plum Fairies and whatnot. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely adore the music Tchaikovsky wrote for the ballet, but the different versions are just that... different. It would be like comparing the Sleeping Beauty or Swan Lake ballet adaptations to their original written form. And that's where my love for The Nutcracker Prince lies... in that it does not try to emulate the ballet, and instead stands on its own two feet, and also daring to establish closer roots to the original tale.
Randomly, a strange thing I've noticed is that during the Land of the Dolls scene, Clara and the Nutcracker appear to be almost in the mid-teens (circa sixteen years), rather than the early teens (circa fourteen) that there's supposed to be. But during the final scene, after Clara wakes up, they're back to being in their early teens again. (They're shorter and have baby fat in their cheeks once again.) Most odd, that.
As a bonus, here's my favourite scene in the whole movie: !!MASSIVE SPOILER WARNING!! + click +
Favourite scene: The Finale
|Waking up after the strange events of the night before, the first thing Clara does is run frantically to Uncle Drosselmeir's workshop.|
|Uncle Drosselmeir, it seems, has been expecting her.|
|After she's let in, the confused and distraught Clara begs Uncle Drosselmeir to tell her truth. Was it a story, or was it real?|
|At that moment, a young boy carrying one of Uncle Drosselmeir's heavy clocks unexpectedly enters the room.|
|Clara starts in surprise. Who is it?|
|The boy turns. He looks remarkably familiar.|
|Clara stares. It couldn't be... could it?|
|Uncle Drosselmeir helpfully introduces him before leaving. "I'd like you to meet my nephew, Hans."|
|The boy approaches Clara, who doesn't know what to believe. And then he says, "Hello... Clara."|
|Yes, she would know that voice anywhere. And so she answers, "Hello... Nutcracker."|
This is the kind of scene that leaves me breathless. The delicate music in the background, the pacing, the sheer hopefulness, and the final slow recognition in Clara's eyes when she realises that she didn't lose her Nutcracker after all, it makes it truly goosebump-worthy.