One Christmas, my older brother and I got into an old-fashioned sibling argument because I wanted to see our local ballet company perform The Nutcracker . My brother argued that he couldn't follow the plot of The Nutcracker past Act One. I explained that there basically *isn't* a plot past Act One. (And in a little sister victory, we saw The Nutcracker.)
So for anyone making a film adaptation of this holiday ballet, one question emerges: How do you make a whole movie out of a ballet that wraps up its central conflict (and any semblance of a plot) before the curtains close on Act One?
Barbie in the Nutcracker figured something out, and the result is *more* than a Christmas movie. It transcends the label. I remember loving this movie and watching it year-round, but my recollection of film itself is hazy. Here are my unfiltered reactions as I re-watch the Barbie ballet movie that started it all.
1. Universal Studios made this film? That's a bigger name than I expected for a direct to home video release.
2. Using the overture as the opening credits sequence is an inspired choice. We're off to a strong start.
3. Peter Martins choreographed this one, too?? I don't appreciate having my childhood movies associated with that guy. Nope, no thanks, get out.
4. We're already seeing one of the biggest Barbie ballet offenses in action: Pointe Shoe Ribbons Tied Up To The Knees.
5. Another Barbie movie, another frame narrative. This time, Barbie is giving her young student, Kelly, a private lesson.
6. One of my former teachers would remind us to not have "Barbie hands" during ballet when she wanted us to separate our fingers. I'd say Barbie has a bad case of the Barbie hands.
7. Why does Barbie keep switching which foot is in front during her bourrées, and why doesn't Barbie stop dancing and give Kelly corrections when she gets frustrated? I'm not convinced of Barbie's pedagogical skills here.
8. THE STUDIO HAS A BOOMBOX. I love it here in 2001.
9. Kelly is rehearsing for a performance and is afraid of forgetting her choreo onstage, so Barbie tells her to find the courage to try, "just like Clara." Off we go into the main story.
10. Why is Clara an orphan in this version, and why is Fritz named Tommy? This raises so many more questions than it answers.
11. If the plot of this movie is not explaining the mysterious deaths of Clara's parents, I'm going to be disappointed.
12. Getting some major "Downton Abbey" vibes from this house, the clothing, and the decorations.
13. Okay, the plot thickens. Clara puts her ballerina Christmas ornament on the tree, and when the maid asks her about it, Clara says it was a gift from her mother. Then the maid makes a *very suspicious* face and walks off without saying anything! Does the maid know something? Was foul play to blame for the deaths of Clara and Tommy's parents?
14. Also, how can they decorate with fully edible gingerbread and then act surprised when they have mice?
15. This family tree makes no sense. Clara and Tommy are in the care of their Grandfather Drosselmeyer, but their Aunt Drosselmeyer is also their Grandfather's niece? How can that be? Where do the lies end with this family? What happened to Clara's parents?
16. Grandfather Drosselmeyer is kind of a stick in the mud in this adaptation, compared to the eccentric godfather from the ballet.
17. Oh, I see, Grandfather Drosselmeyer is strict and boring so that Cool Aunt Drosselmeyer can be the one to bring Clara the Nutcracker from her adventures abroad.
18. Call him whatever name you want; Clara's brother is always a jealous brat.
19. Wait, Clara's brother breaks the Nutcracker before the party, and then we cut straight to Clara asleep by the Christmas tree? Why did we just skip the entire party scene?
20. Some unspecified golden sparkles fly out of the mouse hole in the wall and wake up the Nutcracker, who immediately goes to fight the mouse army. Clara decides she's dreaming and just rolls with it.
21. I'm a little disappointed that the Mouse King only has one head, TBH.
22. Since Clara is still full-sized at this point, she goes to capture the Mouse King under a vase but he shrinks her before she can finish the job. Maybe if she had kept the element of surprise instead of going for the one-liner. Now you have a whole new set of problems, Clara.
23. The mouse army might as well be Stormtroopers for how good they are at fighting.
24. Tiny Clara, on the other hand (foot?) is able to completely bean the Mouse King with her shoe from her precarious spot dangling from the Christmas garland.
25. Again with the seemingly arbitrary name changes. Why do we have a Sugar Plum Princess instead of the Sugar Plum Fairy?
26. "You mean, you used to be…?" "Yes, not a nutcracker." Oh, sure. No further questions.
27. Now we have a quest! The owl from the top of the clock flies down to inform Clara and the Nutcracker where they can find the Sugar Plum Princess. The owl also takes a miniature-but-now-appropriately-sized locket off Clara's ballerina ornament and tells her that once they find the princess Clara can open the locket to return home.
28. The real question is, how long was this very important magical locket just chilling on the ornament? Barbie movies love them some enchanted jewelry.
29. Clara and the Nutcracker (he must have had a name before he became a Nutcracker?) fall into the magic portal Alice in Wonderland style and land in a frozen cave. The snow fairies come out to dance and help them find a way out, set to the iconic snow scene music of course.
30. This scene might explain why the snow scene has always been my favorite part of The Nutcracker.
31. I guess we'll find out later why flowers grow through the snow in Clara's footsteps.
32. Hold up, I recognize the Mouse King's voice. It's Tim Curry??
33. Sorry, I can't even keep up with this plot right now, I'm too busy thinking about how Dr. Frank-N-Furter/Nigel Thornberry is the Mouse King.
34. Okay, where were we? Finding a horse, of course. Every Barbie movie has to have a horse, and this one is no exception.
35. Marzipan the horse is even bright pink and has her own sleigh. With Marzipan we also pick up a gingerbread boy and a peppermint girl. (Sell those dolls, Mattel!)
36. These kids really resent Prince Eric, the crown prince who's gone missing and allowed the Mouse King to take over. Don't mind the guilty expression all over the Nutcracker's giant wooden face.
37. So Clara and her squad are narrowly saved from more Stormtroopers—I mean mice—by the anti-mouse resistance leaders Major Mint and Captain Candy.
38. "You're telling me the Nutcracker, a wooden utensil, managed to escape a well-armed fighting squadron unharmed?" The dialogue in this movie is unironically funny.
39. The Mouse King transformed a pillar from his throne room into a rock monster and sends it along with his bat sidekick to find Clara and the Nutcracker.
40. "You're more than a Nutcracker...Prince Eric." Clara's out here seeing right through Prince Eric's *wooden* acting. (I'll see myself out.)
41. Clara decides to keep Prince Eric's secret, for now.
42. So now we're leaving behind the peppermint girl and gingerbread boy in favor of Major Mint and Captain Candy? Why did the kids need to exist as characters at all? Oh right, to sell more dolls.
43. So far, this movie makes zero sense as an adaptation of the ballet, but as a kids film? I'm loving it.
44. In another thinly veiled opportunity for more dancing fairies/dolls to market, Clara and the Nutcracker free some flower fairies from a well. The fairies proceed to fly around to "Waltz of the Flowers" and make all the plants grow.
45. And just when Clara and the Nutcracker are about to join in the waltz—GIANT ROCK MONSTER.
46. The rock monster actually reminds me of the giant snow monster from Frozen. Sorry Disney, Barbie did it first.
47. I'm living for the sheer 2001-ness of the animation, like when Marzipan pulls the sleigh by so #TeamNutcracker can escape and there are no hoof prints or treads from the sleigh left behind in the snow.
48. Also, where the heck did Marzipan come from?
49. The Nut-Vengers narrowly escape the rock monster after the Nutcracker cracks the ice to sink it in the frozen sea.
50. Finally, the gang arrives at the mystical island where they hope to find the Sugar Plum Princess. The giant pink castle looks pretty 2-D, but it's probably the old-school animation again.
51. In a TWIST, the castle looked flat because it was a fake castle, set up by the Mouse King's bat henchman (henchbat?) to capture #TeamNutcracker. Everyone but Clara is flown by bat to the Mouse King's lair, and now Clara's stranded because all of the magical ice has suddenly melted.
52. But there's no problem some fairies can't solve. Thankfully, the flower fairies are back and they can fly Clara all the way to rescue her friends.
53. And the remaining fairies fly back to where gingerbread boy and peppermint girl are waiting with the townspeople, to mobilize them against the Mouse King!
54. In a severely dark turn of events for a kids' movie, Clara discovers that the Mouse King plans to burn the Nutcracker alive, in front of all the villagers.
55. Clara manages to find and free the rest of the Nut-Vengers in time for Prince Eric to confront the Mouse King.
56. This Nutcracker-vs-Mouse King face-off makes me wonder why the Mouse King decided to transform his rival Prince Eric into something with a sword, instead of literally anything else. You really set yourself up for this problem, Mouse King.
57. And we've circled right back to a redux of the movie's first fight scene. Mouse King knocks down Nutcracker, Clara stands up to Mouse King, Mouse King goes to shrink Clara yet again…
58. But this time, the Nutcracker deflects the Mouse King's spell with his sword! The Mouse King shrinks down to the size of an in-universe mouse and runs off into the sewer. Good riddance.
59. And with a kiss on the wooden cheek, Clara transforms the Nutcracker back into a prince.
60. So, what was all that about a Sugar Plum Princess? Of course, it was Clara all along!
61. And Clara's nightgown transforms into a beautiful pink tutu. I remember having this Barbie doll and absolutely loving her, even if her pointe shoe ribbons went up to her knees and her plastic hips had no turnout.
62. With the castle and everyone in it restored to their pre-mouse glory, it's time to celebrate!
63. As an homage to Act Two of the original ballet, we now have all the characters dancing for Clara to say thank you.
64. How do animated dancers manage to be so off the music?
65. Major Mint has some serious height on those jumps, and Captain Candy is killing it with his...coffee grinder? Okay sure, it's a ballet + breaking mashup. Maybe Captain Candy is hoping for a spot in the 2024 Olympics.
66. Now the moment we've been waiting for: The Sugarplum Pas de Deux.
67. Clara, after saving the world and without stretching, immediately hits that 180-degree penché no problem.
68. That was a nice tour jeté, Prince Eric! The animated dancing in this version might actually be better than Barbie in Swan Lake.
69. Naturally, Clara's long blonde curls never seem to fly into her face while she's dancing.
70. After all that, Prince Eric asks Clara to stay and be his queen and she accepts.
71. But wait, what's that in the sky? The still-miniature Mouse King is back, riding his bat by Clara and stealing her magic necklace!
72. The peppermint girl knocks them both out of the sky with a well-placed snowball, but it's too late: The locket has been opened and Clara fades back into her own world.
73. Clara wakes up by the tree where she fell asleep, without the Nutcracker and without her necklace. Understandably, she flips out and starts ranting to Grandfather Drosselmeyer and Tommy about mouse wars and magic scepters.
74. Before Grandfather Drosselmeyer calls a doctor on Clara, here comes Cool Aunt Drosselmeyer with...Prince Eric?
75. Aunt Drosselmeyer introduces Eric as the son of a friend and quickly clears Tommy and Grandfather Drosselmeyer out of the room. But is this Eric the same Prince Eric that used to be the Nutcracker?
76. Well, he just handed Clara her necklace, so it's looking like he must be? How is he here with Clara in her world?
77. At least they get to finish their dance. But what are the political ramifications of Eric leaving his country again? Wasn't his absence what allowed the Mouse King to seize power in the first place?
78. I guess those questions (and so many more!) will remain unanswered because now we're back in the studio with Barbie and Kelly.
79. Kelly was inspired by Clara's bravery and is ready to try her solo again.
80. Yay, Kelly remembered the choreo! Don't worry about the continued political unrest in the Nutcracker's kingdom and how his absence will inevitably leave an opportunity for another evil dictator to take over. Honestly, I was hoping for a post-credits scene that never came. Let's hope Major Mint and Captain Candy can hold down the fort while Eric is off dancing with Clara...¯\_(ツ)_/¯