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Thursday, December 04, 2014

Care Bears Nutcracker Suite

Hello, everyone!  Are you ready for another edition of A POP CULTURE ADDICT'S ADVENT CALENDAR?  I certainly hope you are because I have a really fun topic idea to talk about for the fourth day of the calendar.

Yes, we're on Day #4, and as you may have noticed, I have temporarily gone back to the old theme days.  It just makes it easier to keep track of all of the topics that I have already done.  And for TUBE TALK THURSDAY, we're going to be taking a look at a Christmas special that I absolutely remember from my childhood.  It's a television special that combines a classic Christmas tale with one of the most popular toys of the 1980s, and it is a special that I have probably seen about a couple dozen times.  I suppose it makes sense, considering that I was seven and a half when this special first aired on television.

How many of you out there have a nutcracker doll on display at your home for the holidays?  I know that I have a couple of nutcracker ornaments hanging up on our family Christmas tree.  And my sister has a collection of nutcracker dolls that probably exceeds over two hundred.  Seriously, if you visit her at home, the nutcracker dolls take over a whole portion of her living room.

Of course, nutcracker dolls do more than decorate homes and crack walnuts open with their gigantic mouths.  The nutcracker happens to be the star of a famous holiday ballet show!

As many of you know, "The Nutcracker" is a two-act ballet with music composed by Tchaikovsky.  The ballet itself was inspired by the story "The Nutcracker and the Mouse King" by E.T.A. Hoffmann.  All I have to do is post the main theme of The Nutcracker and it will instantly jog your memory, like so.

Would you believe that the very first performance of The Nutcracker took place almost 122 years ago, on December 18, 1892?  And would you believe that initially, The Nutcracker failed to catch on?  Of course, this was nothing to do with Tchaikovsky's compositions...if anything, the music was more popular than the actual ballet!  But by the time the 1960s rolled around, "The Nutcracker" was finally starting to get recognized for its greatness and has been performed by various ballet companies all over the world each Christmas season.

So, what do you think you would get if you took "The Nutcracker" and combined it with a cartoon that featured a bunch of loving, caring teddy bears and their kind-hearted animal cousins?

Well, you might get something called "Care Bears Nutcracker Suite", that's what!

Originally airing in the United States on December 10, 1988 (in Canada, the cartoon aired on Christmas Day, 1988), the Care Bears Nutcracker Suite also doubled as the three-part series finale of "The Care Bears Family" cartoon series, which ran from 1986-1988.  And honestly, I think that if the cartoon series had to end, this was definitely a great series of episodes to do it with.

First things first, I like the fact that this episode starred some Care Bears who really never got much of a chance to shine during the whole series.  As I recall, early episodes were very Tenderheart and Braveheart centered, while later episodes seemed to focus mostly on the Cheer Bear/Champ Bear/Bright Heart Raccoon/Treat Heart Pig quadrilateral.

The two main stars of this special?  Grumpy Bear and Funshine Bear.  Complete polar opposites, but they certainly made a great team.

Of course, Baby Hugs and Tugs, Brave Heart Lion, Tenderheart Bear, and Lotsa Heart Elephant also made appearances in this special Christmas feature.

The Care Bears Nutcracker Suite begins at a public school where a group of children are busy practicing for a Christmas play.  Their teacher, named Miss Walker, decides to gather the children together to tell them a story.  The story, of course, is "The Nutcracker".  But there's a twist to the story.  This story begins in Care-a-Lot - the home of the Care Bears and Care Bear Cousins.

Yes, believe it or not, Care Bears celebrate Christmas too.  And naturally, all of the Care Bears are busy decorating trees, wrapping presents, and forcing their little star friends to pose as Christmas lights all season long.

(Okay, I made that last part up.)

Well, that is, everyone except Hugs and Tugs.  The Care Bear Cubs are only interested in trying to find the absolute perfect ornament for the Care Bear Family Christmas Tree.  Remember that point for later.

But before you know it, the Christmas festivities are put on hold when Funshine Bear reports that a little girl named Anna is feeling sad and depressed, and Funshine requests the aid of another Care Bear to help her try and cheer Anna up.  Of course, this sets the stage for Grumpy Bear to join Funshine Bear on the mission.

Once both bears arrive on Earth, they quickly discover what is wrong.  Anna's best friend recently moved away, and with Anna's little brother Peter being too distracted by pirate games and seeking adventure, she is feeling alone for the holidays.  Grumpy and Funshine try to cheer Anna up, but in the midst of everything, a flash of light appears in Anna's bedroom, and a portal opens up.

(The portal might I add is exactly the same one that Beastur used to go through on "My Pet Monster".  I suppose since both "My Pet Monster" and "Care Bears" were produced by Nelvana, it was inevitable that they would share similar animation techniques.)

In the case of Anna, it isn't a scary purple monster that comes out.  Instead, it happens to be a life-sized, talking nutcracker doll!  But unfortunately, he is followed by an army of gigantic rats who do their best to try and drag Mr. Nutcracker back inside! 

Of course, Funshine, Grumpy, Anna, and Peter are not willing to let their new friend go without a fight, and they easily defeat the rats who scurry back inside the portal.  Of course, this leads the Care Bears and the children to wonder what the heck is going on, and Mr. Nutcracker explains that the group of rats - lead by the Rat King - were cohorts of a man known as the Evil Vizier, a ruthless dictator who makes it his mission to take over the land known as Toyland.  Mr. Nutcracker also explains that the Prince of Toyland has gone missing, and that the Prince's ring has also gone missing, which could spell doom for Toyland if the ring falls in the wrong hands.

At the same time, the Vizier has captured the Sugar Plum Fairy - one of the closest allies of the former Prince of Toyland.  You see, the Sugar Plum Fairy has actually hidden the Prince's ring inside of a walnut, and she is the only one who knows where the ring is.  And naturally, the Vizier believes that by capturing Sugar Plum, she will eventually crack and reveal where the ring is.  But Sugar Plum is not willing to give up the secret at all. 

At the same time, the Care Bears and Anna team up with Mr. Nutcracker to try and stop the evil Vizier from taking over Toyland.  Of course, Peter wants to help too, but is initially relegated to babysitting Hugs and Tugs.  But somehow, the three find another portal to Toyland, and they embark on their own adventure, with Peter wanting to find adventure, and Hugs and Tugs trying to find an ornament that they can call their very own.

I'm sure you see where this is going, right?  Yep, somehow, the walnut ends up in the possession of Hugs and Tugs, and the rest of the Care Bears soon discover that keeping Anna and Mr. Nutcracker safe is not the easiest job in the world.

So, how does this tale end?  Well, I really shouldn't spoil it for you.  After all, some of you may not have seen it.  All that I will reveal is that Mr. Nutcracker might have a deeper connection to Toyland than initially thought, and that there is a rather ingenious surprise twist at the end of the story.

All in all, it's a great adaptation of "The Nutcracker".  Definitely check it out.

And, that wraps up Day #4.  In Day #5, I'll be sharing a personal Christmas memory.  In the meantime, happy nutcracking! 

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