It’s Nutcracker season again, and with it comes Nutcracker retellings. With The Nutcracker and the Four Realms already out in theaters, we have another rehash of the classic short story “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” and its musical counterpart. I’m glad. I haven’t seen it yet, but whether the movie is popcorn-stuffing enticing or can’t-bear-it horrid, it’s an attempt to pay homage to the captivating, mystical story of The Nutcracker.
For whatever reason, the original production of The Nutcracker did not touch audiences like today. But, that didn’t last for long. Now, every single person I’ve met has at least heard about it. It’s reached countless people and excited the holiday spirit for young and old.
However, the retellings I’ve seen lately have usually resulted in either a carbon copy of the ballet, with barely enough flavor to grow into their own, or those that attempt to diverge from the original and instead wind up losing the magic.
Read on to understand the features that would make any future Nutcracker retelling tremendously better.
Expand Upon the Characters
What most retellings often lack, at least in regards to The Nutcracker, is character depth. While we have plenty of fairy tale retellings that usher in a wealth of well-rounded main characters, The Nutcracker retellings, sadly, do not. Instead of painting Clara as a helpless unresponsive watcher, have Clara actually be the protagonist of the story. Why did Drosselmeyer choose her to send on this adventure, and why is she there? She saves the Nutcracker, but after, she slinks back into maiden mode, never to do anything heroic ever again. Even Barbie’s version of The Nutcracker, where we are supposed to have Barbie as a herald for girl power, has Clara sit back and watch as others do the fighting for her.
One could even make the character, the Nutcracker, multi-faceted. Did he ever have to make a difficult choice? He’s a soldier—one would think that he would have at some point. Has he failed at doing the honorable thing? Most likely. He’s human. And what of his mirror, the Rat King? Why does he have to be complete evil? Why not make him much more interesting than the flat character he is? Does he come back? Does he know the Nutcracker? We should ask those questions to make the characters more meaningful.
Did Someone Say Magic?
Honestly, I’m a sucker for a good magic system, and since The Nutcracker is already a fantasy story, why not throw some more magic in there? What would be interesting is if Clara’s dancing could translate into sword fighting and/or a type of summoning power. Perhaps, she can summon sweets with a twirl. Give her magic that brings inanimate objects to life. She could start off as a little girl with nothing and become an all-powerful sorceress.
You could even have the Nutcracker affected by magic. Perhaps he was inflicted with a curse that is slowly turning him to wood, and Clara’s quest could be to restore him to human form. Is there a cure? Can Clara help him?
And the Rat King…what’s with this dude? Why is he a giant, talking rat? (erm, or…I guess normal-sized talking rat, but still…) Why did Clara shrink? What is with her godfather? How did he get his powers? Is he trying to fold Clara into his magical world? He could be sinister or mad. Does he have some connection with the Sugar Plum Fairy (always found the part with the Sugar Plum Fairy random)? Bring the magic to the forefront.
The Story’s Spirit
I adore The Nutcracker. I always have. I especially love the ballet. What touches me most (besides the glorious and amazing music and dancing, if we’re talking about the ballet) is the fact that it embodies a special kind of magic: the magic of childhood. Possibly, the loss of childhood. But also the holiday spirit, friendship, the beauty of story and art, and a magic that we’ve all had in our hearts at one time. Maybe, it’s always been there. It touches people, and a good story should always do that.
The Nutcracker has that special kind of fairytale magic, I-never-want-to-grow-old memory that roots in your heart and blossoms once you grow older. A retelling of this tale should hold that same magic over you. It should remind you of the days when you were a child and you could imagine a land that, when you close your eyes and drift off to sleep, you are met with a wooden doll who comes to life, a mouse king who must be defeated, and your toy/candy shelf’s dance performance.
It’s the same kind of magic you might feel when reading children’s books, fairy tales, or by watching old cartoons. Maybe it’s the nostalgia talking, but I don’t think so. I believe it’s something deeper. The Nutcracker deserves that depth, so here’s hoping future retellings pay particular attention to character, magic, and childhood wonder.