Christmas Eve and an upper class family is about to throw a party.
The two children, Francois and Marie, are on tenterhooks, waiting to open their presents. The party is a family tradition, the guests including friends and family, many of noble birth. The family of a tradesman who works for the father have also been invited, including his son, a bad boy and trouble-maker. Their entry attracts the attention of the other guests, and especially that of François, who recognises a kindred spirit in the son. The very last to arrive, however, is the children’s uncle, Mr. Drosselmeyer, a strikingly handsome man and Chairman of the financial group for which the father works and which owns their apartment. Drosselmeyer, who gives the impression of a powerful emperor, is accompanied by a timid young man, his nephew, and four bodyguards.
Drosselmeyer, the real deus ex machina of the story, offers Marie a huge nutcracker that somehow resembles the shy young man. Marie is overjoyed and hugs the nutcracker, but then the bad boy and François snatch it from her, breaking it in the process. Luckily, Drosselmeyer repairs it. By now the party is drawing to a close. After saying goodbye to their guests, Marie and François are sent to bed, where they pretend to be asleep, but instead start a pillow fight as soon as their parents leave them. The light gradually dims and the atmosphere becomes magical… Marie finds herself in a dream world, in a snow-clad forest. She is approached by dancers all dressed in white, who introduce her to a handsome prince. His features vaguely remind her of the nutcracker her uncle has given her.
The young couple climb to the last storey of the palace to admire the stars. There, Marie is dismayed to find many Spanish maids, feverishly working away. Upset, she asks the prince to accompany her back downstairs. As they descend the stairs, the dream turns into a nightmare: the two are chased by mice and in the ensuing battle Marie recognises some of her brother François’ bully mates, led by the bad boy from the party. The nutcracker prince protects Marie and calls for help from the toy soldiers that Uncle Drosselmeyer had given his nephew. There follows a fierce battle. The bad boys are quickly defeated by the nutcracker prince’s forces. Peace reigns again and Marie’s uncle invites her and the prince to visit his kingdom. They reach the entrance to the palace, now a magnificent, glittering reception room. A sumptuous party starts, which soon turns into an entertaining voyage to distant lands. Uncle Drosselmeyer invites Marie and the prince to sit on grand thrones. Various people approach, performing Spanish, Arabian, Chinese, Russian and courtly dances. To everyone’s amazement, when these dances end, five butlers approach with trolleys bearing silver bells. These cover some delicious original pastry creations chosen by Uncle Drosselmeyer.
A final waltz amid the rarest and most exotic flowers possible marks the end of the party. Marie wishes to dance with her prince before the music stops. The dream ends with the closing notes of the dance and Marie wakes up, back in her room. She runs downstairs looking for her nutcracker. Despite everyone’s efforts, it cannot be found. Suddenly someone knocks at the door: Uncle Drosselmeyer and his nephew have come to return the nutcracker to Marie. As she gazes at it, she realises that she is no longer a child. She throws herself into the young man’s arms, recognizing him as her prince – her companion during that long dream – and sweetly kisses him.