Our story begins long ago, in a small European town. It’s a bright and warm summer’s day, and a festival to celebrate the arrival of a new bell is set to begin. (People in the days of yore were really into ding-dongs.)
Behind the doors of a tiny wooden house lives Doctor Coppélius, a toy-maker and inventor. Doctor Coppélius rarely leaves his home and hardly ever speaks to the other townsfolk. Frequent explosions and other strange noises come from the little cottage, but the police never investigate. Neighbours describe him as “quiet” and “keeps to himself.”
Doctor Coppélius has been putting the finishing touches on his latest creation: an exquisite doll named Coppélia. In fact, lonely Doctor Coppélius secretly dreams of bringing her to life.
Swanilda, one of the prettiest girls in town, arrives in the village square and greets her friends who are heading to work in the fields. When you are extremely good looking you don’t have to punch the clock, so though her friends will be sweating like farm animals in the orchards, Swanilda will be enjoying her 374th day off.
As Swanilda is planning her day of leisure, she approaches the house of Doctor Coppélius and sees his doll, Coppélia, as she sits near a window. Swanilda calls to her, but the mysterious girl doesn’t respond (because she’s a doll). Swanilda continues to try to attract Coppélia’s attention by waving, shouting and performing dance moves such as The Sprinkler, The Shopping Cart, and the always well-received Running Man.
Swanilda decides to leave when Coppélia rejects her repeated friend requests, but hears her sweetheart, Franz, emerging from the tavern. Swanilda wonders if Franz will be wooed by Coppélia’s good looks, so she hides and watches him as he nears Doctor Coppélius’ house. Sure enough, it takes about ten seconds for Franz to stop under Coppélia’s window, and become completely infatuated with the beautiful doll. (This may be due in part to the six pints he downed while at his favourite watering hole.) Coppélia takes no notice of him (because she’s a doll), so Franz waves at her, blows her kisses, and executes a flawless Mime Trapped in a Box routine. Like his not-so-bright girlfriend, Franz believes the doll to be a living person.
Unaware of the crapshow going on outside of his house, Doctor Coppélius adjusts his favourite doll’s mechanism, which sets Coppélia in motion. The doll stands up and blows kisses in the direction of Franz. Swanilda is dismayed by these kisses and emerges from her hiding place, pretending that she has only just arrived.
In an effort to look super casual and breezy, Swanilda and some children chase a butterfly in the square. Franz joins in, and manages to catch the butterfly, triumphantly pinning it to his collar. Swanilda bursts into tears because… well, who the hell pins a butterfly to his jacket? Swanilda tells Franz he is cruel and then freaks out about his flirtations with Coppélia. Franz tries to talk his way out of the delicate situation, but nothing he says convinces Swanilda that he is still true to her. (Because he’s not.)
A crowd rushes into the town square and the burgomaster steps forward to make an announcement. (A burgomaster is the mayor or chief magistrate of a town, not a hamburger expert.) First, the burgomaster talks about the presentation of a new bell for the church which is to take place the next day. Naturally, there is quite a bit of oohing and aahing about the bell. After everyone settles down, the burgomaster announces that any young couples choosing to marry during the bell ceremony will get a purse of gold. People are pretty excited about the opportunity to get paid for monogamy, so there is more oohing and aahing. Except for Swanilda. Swanilda looks like she just got punched in the face by a wild boar.
The burgomaster notices Swanilda bringing his party down, and in an effort to lighten the mood asks if she might be one of the lucky couples to be given a dowry the next day. Swanilda shakes her head and tells the burgomaster that Franz no longer loves her. There is considerable shock and awe amongst the eavesdropping villagers.
The burgomaster tells Swanilda about the legend of the stalk of wheat. If she shakes a stalk of wheat next to her ear and hears a rattle, she will know that Franz loves her and is faithful. If she hears nothing? Well, that means there’s trouble in paradise. Thankfully, the burgomaster just happens to have a stalk of wheat with him, otherwise the rest of this ballet couldn’t happen.
Swanilda shakes the stalk of wheat by her ear, but hears nothing. When she shakes it by Franz’s head, he also hears nothing, but he tells her that it rattles. Swanilda doesn’t believe Franz – which is the only intelligent decision she will make in this ballet – and runs away heartbroken.
The villagers continue to celebrate the news about the bell and marriage bribes, dancing until dusk. Franz, by the way, stays behind, amusing himself by dancing with all the pretty girls. He’s a real sac of crap.
As night falls, Doctor Coppélius emerges from his house. He pulls the door closed and locks it with an enormous key which he then puts in his pocket. As he turns to walk across the town square, he is met by Franz and his friends. They surround him, teasing and jostling the old man, pushing him about the town square. Doctor Coppélius tries to use his umbrella to fend the boys off, but it only makes them laugh harder. As things are about to boil over, an innkeeper hears the ruckus and suggests that Doctor Coppélius join him for a drink at the tavern. He also suggests that teenaged boys are not generally afraid of umbrellas. Doctor Coppélius reluctantly agrees and the men trudge off together, leaving the pesky boys behind.
Swanilda and her friends enter the darkened town square, giggling and carrying on. Suddenly, one of the girls trips over something. She looks down and finds a large key on the cobblestones. The girls wonder who the key might belong to, and one suggests they try it in every village door until they happen upon the one it unlocks. Swanilda points out that because the key was found right in front of Doctor Coppélius’ house, there’s a high probability it will unlock his door. (Maybe she’s not as dumb as we thought!) Swanilda then suggests breaking into the mysterious home, so they can learn all the Doctor’s secrets. Of course, she really just wants to meet her rival, Coppélia. (Never mind. She’s as dumb as we thought.)
Swanilda’s friends are apprehensive about the scheme, but are so tempted by the peculiar house and the girl/doll they have seen at the window, that they agree to the plan. The girls crowd around the door as Swanilda slides the key into the lock and turns it. Cautiously, they push the door open and sneak into Doctor Coppélius’ house.
Doctor Coppélius returns from the tavern and discovers his key is no longer in his pocket. He realizes that he must have dropped it during the earlier scuffle with the boys, and searches the ground for it. He then notices that his front door is swinging open! He lifts his umbrella, ready to strike any intruders, and enters the house.
Meanwhile, Franz has developed his own plan to meet Coppélia, and is carrying a ladder toward the house.