The curtain rises on Doctor Coppélius’ house. Inside the dimly lit workshop, Swanilda and her friends investigate the space which is filled with life-sized mechanical dolls. Like the characters in any decent horror movie, the girls ignore the stench of heartbreak and desperation, and lack the good sense to flee before being discovered. Instead, they wind up the enchanting dolls and watch them move, untroubled by the Doctor’s salacious attention to anatomical details (if you know what I mean).
Swanilda draws aside some heavy curtains in an alcove and finds Coppélia seated with a book in her hands. Swanilda greets the girl but gets no response. Undeterred, Swanilda touches the young girl’s arm, but she remains motionless. Swanilda then puts her head to Coppélia’s chest and listens for a heartbeat. Finally – and I mean after about ten more minutes of this utter stupidity – Swanilda figures out that Coppélia is a doll. Relieved, Swanilda feels fairly confident that she needn’t worry about her rival anymore, and looks forward to telling Franz that he’s been flirting with in inanimate object.
Doctor Coppélius discovers the girls in his workshop. He becomes furious with them for trespassing and disturbing his work area and sizeable marble collection. He throws a hissy fit, stamping his feet and yelling about how he can’t find his precious Dorfglashutte marble, and sends the girls scurrying in fear from the house.
Swanilda, unable to escape with her friends (avoiding manual labour has made her slow and weak), hides in the alcove with Coppélia. She removes the clothes from the over-sized toy and disguises herself as the doll.
As Doctor Coppélius tries to get his workshop re-organized, he hears a noise. He turns to see the top of a ladder in the window. Frantz appears, searching for Coppélia. He crawls through the window and finds himself face to face with Doctor Coppélius. After a frantic chase around the workshop, both men grow weary and decide to talk things out. Doctor Coppélius, panting, questions Franz’s motives for being in his house. Franz explains to Coppélius that he has fallen in love with Coppélia and would, in fact, like to marry her. Doctor Coppélius is amused that this foolish young man has fallen in love with his creation and doesn’t mention that he has the hots for her too.
Doctor Coppélius hatches a plan: he will give Franz a potion, extract the “life force” from his body and use it to breathe consciousness into his beloved doll. Yes, we’re talking about human sacrifice here, and no, I don’t know what the hell he’s thinking. Doctor Coppélius pretends to listen with great interest while Franz babbles on and on about Coppélia, enticing him to drink several well-doctored cocktails laced with sleeping powder. Franz soon falls into a deep sleep.
Doctor Coppélius carries Swanilda out of the alcove, believing her to be his doll, Coppélia. He sets Swanilda next to the unconscious Franz and then retrieves a book of magic spells. After studying its pages carefully, Doctor Coppélius places his hands over the heart and forehead of Franz, and tries to extract the young man’s soul. It’s pretty clear that this doctor didn’t go to medical school or, in all likelihood, even a high school biology class.
Doctor Coppélius waves his arms wildly over Swanilda. Swanilda performs a few animated gestures hoping the Doctor will believe his spell is having an effect on her. Unsatisfied by her stilted movements, Doctor Coppélius mixes a special potion designed to instil more realistic human qualities in his doll. He sprinkles Swanilda with the mixture, and she responds with some of the most beautiful dancing the Doctor has ever seen. Overcome with joy, Coppélius believes his puppet has come to life; that his creation has surpassed all that humankind has invented through the ages. So, though the characters in this ballet are short on intelligence, conceit is in great supply.
Swanilda continues to dance around the workshop, moving so quickly that Doctor Coppélius can scarcely follow her. Tiring of the game she is playing, Swanilda attempts an escape, knocking over dolls and toys as she tries to find her way out of the darkened room. Coppélius is still unaware that he is dealing with Swanilda (not Coppélia) and begins to wonder why she is behaving so wretchedly and how he might avoid this design flaw in future
Franz wakes from his drugged state, and dashes away from the house followed by Doctor Coppélius. Swanilda continues to run around, exerting a surprising amount of energy for a girl so reluctant to engage in any sort of physical labour. Doctor Coppélius, unable to catch Franz, returns to his workshop and becomes increasingly frustrated with Swanilda’s antics.
In no time, Franz returns via the balcony, still seeking Coppélia with whom he has fallen in love. (Shhhhhh. I know, I know.) As Franz crawls through the window he overhears Swanilda explaining to Doctor Coppélius that she has changed places with his doll.
Franz is embarrassed when he learns that he has been infatuated with a puppet and comes to the conclusion that he probably can’t make that sort of relationship work. He knows now that it is Swanilda whom he has truly loved all along. (Convenient.) Franz helps Swanilda escape from the house, and they run from the workshop which has been left in shambles. Doctor Coppélius is broken-hearted as he discovers the real Coppélia in the alcove and realizes the full extent of his foolishness.