The Care Bears Nutcracker Suite is the third and final television special to feature the Care Bears characters. It was originally planned for a theatrical release, but owing to the financial shortcomings of The Care Bears Adventure in Wonderland, it premiered on November 5, 1988 on the Disney Channel instead, and was later released on VHS. In Canada, subsequent airings of the special divided it into three parts.
This is the only Nelvana production of a Care Bears special. The first two, The Land Without Feelings and The Freeze Machine, were produced by Atkinson Film-Arts in the early half of the 1980s.
The Care Bears Nutcracker Suite premiered on video and television in December 1988 across North America, and was met with indifferent reception. The special premiered on DVD in France in 2004, and then in November 2006 by Lions Gate Home Entertainment under a new English title, Care Bears: The Nutcracker. This was Nelvana's last Care Bears production until Journey to Joke-a-lot in 2004.
At a school called P.S. 5, a teacher named Miss Walker tells some children a version of E.T.A. Hoffmann's The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, involving the Care Bears. As the story begins, they and their Cousins prepare for Christmas in their home of Care-a-Lot; the two youngest ones, Hugs and Tugs, are searching for an ornament. While the others spend time in the Hall of Hearts decorating a tree, Funshine Bear suddenly alerts them of an unhappy girl named Anna. Enlisting Grumpy Bear to go along, she takes a Cloud Mobile down to Earth.
When they visit Anna, they learn that her past friend Sharon moved, and her brother Peter is fond of acting as a pirate. As they talk about the virtues of friendship, a burst of light startles them. Eventually, a tall wooden soldier called the Nutcracker emerges from a black portal, along with a band of rats (led by the Rat King) who are after him. When the group hides from their foes, the soldier recollects his memory and explains that he arrived from a place called Toyland; the rodents work for an evil Vizier who is plotting to conquer and destroy that land.
Soon, Funshine and Grumpy send out beams of light from their stomachs, sending a "Care Bear Stare" to their assistants in Care-a-Lot; Lotsa Heart Elephant, Brave Heart Lion, and Tenderheart Bear (along with stowaway Hugs and Tugs) later join them. Hugs and Tugs are asked to stay behind with Peter, but those three venture into Toyland nonetheless.
At his castle, the Vizier wants to know the whereabouts of a powerful ring worn by Toyland's former Prince, so that he can control the place. His captive, a small creature called the Sugar Plum Fairy, refuses to tell him; he is more outraged when the Rat King arrives without the Nutcracker. The Vizier soon takes notice when the soldier and his friends enter Toyland, and take a train through its various sights.
When they stop for the night, the group contends with some toy jesters who also want the train, but advises them to leave Toyland. One of them later explains how they tried to save their land, after the Vizier and the rats overthrew its Prince and captured his castle. To make sure the Vizier never got it, the Fairy hid the Prince's ring away from view. The Nutcracker is determined to end the Vizier, despite the rats' barricade.
Upon reaching the castle by raft, the group secretly sneaks inside and frees the Fairy. With her help, the Bears and Cousins try to get a walnut containing the ring, but the Vizier seizes it and turns them into firewood. This leaves Peter, Hugs, and Tugs to fight with the rats for the item. Soon, the Fairy saves it from the Vizier, and when the Nutcracker wears it on his finger, he turns back into the Prince of Toyland. The Bears and Cousins break free from the ruler's spell, and use their Stare on the villains to save the place. Afterward, they and the kids say good-bye to the Prince; as Anna returns, she realizes it was a dream and wakes up to meet a new neighbor, Alan Prince.
When Miss Walker finishes her tale, the mention of Alan's name surprises two of her students, Holly and Chris. As he and the teacher leave the stage, the other children start rehearsing Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky's ballet. Unknown to all of them, the Care Bears has been listening all along.
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