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iApprove: The Nutcracker and the Mouse King.

March 24, 2009

A recent YouTube rampage by my sister has dug up one of my favorite childhood curiosities: The Nutcracker. A series of music pieces utilized by numerous ballets based on an old children’s book, any of those ballets, or the book itself, The Nutcracker has made itself an integral part of many people’s childhoods in various forms.

For me, it began with the ballet and the music.  The music I was familiar with through Fantasia, wherein Disney’s artists had transformed an otherwise unremarkable collection of music (to a four-year-old) into a visual masterpiece.  (I thoroughly credit Fantasia for my love of the music.)  The story had been gleaned from someone’s description, or possibly from a viewing of the ballet as a very young child.  As far as I knew, the whole plot was thus: girl meets toy, girl falls in love with toy, girl throws a slipper, toy whisks girl off to Dreamland, endless dancing ensues, girl wakes up and it was all just a dream.   Honestly, I didn’t care for it very much.

I’d say that that all changed as I got older, but that wouldn’t really be true.  However, I was fortunate enough as an older child to get my hands on a copy of the book – the original, warts-and-all, Princess Pirlipat-involving book about a girl named Marie.  I was shocked, to say the least.  I had never heard of these details before, and I had no idea where they had come from.  And besides, Clara was a better name for the heroine.  Aside from the inclusion of the Nutcracker’s backstory, I didn’t really care for it.

Then came the YouTube rampage.

Now, looking back on the story, I realize that there is something elegant about it.  About Godfather Drosselmeier, the leering, slightly insane yet brilliant and well-loved tinkerer.  About the nutcracker, a hideous yet strangely charming figure, a child’s toy and a useful tool in one, ever courageous in the face of his extended misfortunes.   About Marie, too; one of very few children who, already at that tender age, had developed a capacity to love so much more than the surface.  There is a certain amount of ambiguity that I don’t particularly care for, but when I look back on it, the story is revealed with some sincerity; Drosselmeier, for all his hand-waving and dismissals of Marie’s claims, seems to be putting on an act for stiff-lipped, sane adults who wouldn’t understand the situation.  It is a story that is rarely done justice, and I would love to see it unfurl sometime in the manner for which it was written.

(Tim Burton, I’m talking to you.)

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