The Legacy of The Nutcracker

Season's Greetings, princess fans! I hope you're all having a lovely holiday season this Christmas Eve no matter what you may celebrate. The most common princess story that takes place during this time of year is that of "The Nutcracker." Since it is so time appropriate, Disney has just released the first trailer for their upcoming live-action movie based on the tale, even though the movie itself isn't coming out for almost a year, with a release date of November 2, 2018. This trailer marks the first live-action movie that Disney had released in quite some time that isn't based off a previously animated film by them. They make this glaringly obvious by featuring logos of some of their more recent live-action remakes in the trailer itself. This is a significant revelation because it shows that they are taking the live-action medium more seriously for future original fairy tale movies that are not remakes. In some ways, this is sad because it does mitigate the art form of animation. t the same time, the trailer does look promising.


"The Nutcracker" is a story that often gets overlooked as an overly simplistic ballet. However, like "Swan Lake," it has early fairy tale roots that hearken back to the story of "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King" by E.T.A. Hoffman. Hoffman's story is about a sweet and imaginative girl named Marie whose reckless brother Fritz breaks a Nutcracker toy she is given by Drosselmeier, a clockmaker and judge who is a friend of her family. After nursing the toy soldier back to health, Marie learns from Drosselmeier that the Nutcracker is actually his nephew and a cursed prince from another land, whose appearance was altered as punishment for helping the selfish Princess Pirlipat. According to Drosselmeier's tale, Pirlipat had been cursed by a vengeful mouse named Lady Mouserinks to take on the form of a Nutcracker for many years. When Drosselmeier's nephew broke the spell and was rewarded with Pirlipat's hand in marriage, Lady Mouserinks extended the curse by changing his appearance in the same manner so that the newly restored princess would no longer desire him as her groom. Upon hearing the tale, Marie is horrified by the princess's true nature and does everything she can to help the young Drosselmeier defeat Lady Mouserink's seven-headed son, the Mouse King, even if it means sacrificing some of her most precious toys. As thanks for her aid, the cursed Nutcracker takes Marie to see the wonders of his enchanted realms of candy, faeries, and other girlish delights, which are the same realms featured in the upcoming Disney film.

When Hoffman's story was set to Tchaikovsky's music in the form of a ballet, Marie was changed to Clara, and the storytelling sequence with the judge was cut entirely along with many of her struggles to defeat the mouse king. Instead, Clara aids her Nutcracker prince immediately, and the rest of the show is devoted to her sheer delight as he shows her the many wonders of his enchanted land in the form of dance and beautiful costumes. The conflict is resolved so early that the ballet does not seem to tell much of a story and is instead a pure spectacle of dance and design. The first time I saw "The Nutcracker" ballet, I was quite surprised by how small a role Clara actually played in the story. The Clara from the ballet is a far more passive character than her predecessor, Marie. The 2001 Barbie movie adaptation combines both stories by having Clara defeat the Mouse King and visit the Nutcracker's realm early on but take a more active role while there, as the Barbie movies tend to do.

Like the Barbie movie, the Disney trailer also appears to take place mainly in the Nutcracker's realm, although the cursed prince himself seems to be oddly absent from the clips released so far. It could just be because they are still working out the kinks of the CGI. Still, it seems odd that the title character would be missing from his own trailer. The Disney version Clara also seems to be closer in personality to Marie than the Clara from the ballet. She appears to first discover the enchanted realm on her own without the Nutcracker's guidance and slowly learns its dangerous secrets that she must overcome. She is later shown dressed a soldier, in a clear attempt to show us that she will not be a "Damsel in Distress." The trailer also features Keira Knightly as the pink-haired Sugar Plum Fairy,  a role that was written into the ballet to be performed the most skilled dancer. The character cut from the Barbie movie in favor of a final reveal that Clara is the prophetic "Sugar Plum Princess," who is a savior of the Nutcracker's kingdom. Though she was not initially part of Hoffman's story, the Sugar Plum Fairy has become synonymous with the tale thanks to the ballet version. In the upcoming movie, she appears to have more of a Fairy Godmother type role, aiding Clara in her quest to save the realms.

When I saw "The Nutcracker" as a ballet, I mistakenly believed the story to quite shallow. It was pretty to look at, but it did not seem to have a complex story or characters behind it. When I did more research upon learning about the Disney movie, I was surprised to learn about Hoffman's original adaptation of the tale that has been all but forgotten in recent years. Marie is a far more willful and clever girl than Clara, even seriously injuring herself in an attempt to save her beloved Nutcracker from the Mouse King. The Barbie movie is a more empowering take on the tale than the ballet, but it still contains less action than Hoffman's story. The Disney movie attempts to return the story to its roots by incorporating more danger and action while still keeping some of the most memorable icons of the ballet, such as the Super Plum Fairy and the name "Clara." Here's hoping that the Disney movie will be just as whimsical as Hoffman's tale, and may visions of Sugar Plum Fairies fill your dreams on this lovely Christmas Eve!

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