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Animated Peter And The Wolf Modern, Dark, Authentic

Reviewing: Break Thru Films Peter And The Wolf  |  Rating:
Joan Young By Joan Young on
Badge: Editor | Level: 34 | Movies & Documentaries Expertise:
the duck

I just watched the most amazing animated video- a modern interpretation of Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf. This Suzie Templeton version won the 2008 Oscar for Best Animated Short Film.

Prokofiev’s classic orchestral piece of music was written in 1936, and is often used to help children identify certain orchestra instruments, as the various animals’ voices are portrayed through the oboe, bassoon, french horn, flute, and clarinet.

In the original tale, Peter sneaks outside the gate of his grandfather’s home and plays with his friends the duck, bird and cat. Then a wolf comes from the woods. The wolf eats the duck- swallows her whole! I’m going to assume that the story is well-known enough that I don’t need to provide spoiler warnings. Peter, the bird and the cat work together to capture the wolf. Grandfather comes out to scold Peter, and discovers that he has bravely caught the wolf. In the end some hunters come by and take the wolf away to a zoo, while you can hear the duck still quacking inside the wolf.

The music is played by the London Philharmonia Orchestra, conducted by Mark Stephenson. And the music is the complete audio track, just as Prokofiev envisioned- letting the instruments be the characters’ voices. There is no speaking by any person or animal.

The classic story has disturbing elements to modern American readers, and so does this version. The setting is clearly Russian, with dark overtones. In one way it is more sad than the original, and yet, in some ways seems funnier. I won’t give away the changes. This is a folk tale from the era when bad things happened, and not everyone has a happy ending. You might not want to use this to entertain very small children- to me, it seems similar to the Lemony Snickets work, A Series of Unfortunate Events.

However, I have to say that the whole thing works in such a compelling manner that I stopped fooling around on the computer (my usual multi-tasking MO while watching media) and gave it my full attention. I didn’t want to miss a single frame. The facial expressions of the animals speak eloquently. Peter’s love for the duck, the duck’s joie de vivre, the magpie’s ineptness, and the cat’s arrogance come through loud and clear. Grandfather is stern, yet concerned for Peter. The other added characters who come into the edges of the story are believable and flesh out the larger setting for the tale.

The DVD contains both the 34-minute story, and a 30-minute documentary about the making of the film. Both are fascinating.

This retelling of Peter and the Wolf, in a modern world, is created by BreakThru Films. The director is Suzie Templeton. She says it took her two years to get the storyline right, and five years to create the film. It is done with puppets and stop-frame animation. In other words, every single frame (24 per second) had to be shot individually, with manual manipulation of the puppets between each click of the camera. This is how claymation is done, but this is nothing like claymation! A complete semi-realistic “world” was constructed for the sets, where the film was shot. The tallest puppet is about a foot high.

The detail level of the movement is a marvel. Peter plays out the rope noose (to catch the wolf’s tail) hand over hand, and there is no “cheating” on how hands would move to do that. The animals play on the ice of the frozen pond, and it’s believable. When the wolf walks down the rocky hill to the pond it looks like a wolf walking. The wolf places a tentative paw on the ice and tests its slipperyness. The motion is not cartoon-ish.

The animation has a clearly Russian “feel” to it, which is very authentic. Using puppets allows for much better textures than computer animation. There was a huge amount of post-production work needed to bring the film to life. About 90% of the frames had to have digital work done to remove such things as the arms which suspend the bird while in flight, etc. I don’t know for sure, but I think some of the facial expressions must have been added in digitally because they are so good.

I had a really hard time choosing just six pictures, but you can see the whole thing if you order it! I watched this on PBS, as part of the Great Performances series, but it is available on Amazon for under $20. I’ve already added it to my wish list.

Read more at pbs.org