Not just a children's' dance film. Ballard invests this perennial Christmas treat with rapture, and aided by Maurice Sendak's gargoyle-in-the-candybox designs, he transforms this usually sugar-coated tale into a pubescent girl's nocturnal dream fantasy. He charts young Clara's overnight rite of passage from child to adult through her ambiguous feelings for godfather Drosselmeier, creator of the toy soldier that is Clara's most cherished Christmas gift. Her diffident response to this bright-eyed old codger adds an incipient Lolita angle for adult viewers, an approach typical of author/illustrator Sendak, whose books masterfully evoke simultaneous moods of malevolence and benevolence by mixing childhood's monstrous fears with heroic courage. The choreography is adequately serviceable, and the film's occasional visual muddiness and homespun narration both qualify the Freudian-tinged magic.