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An animated retelling set to Prokofiev's suite. Peter is a slight lad, solitary, locked out of the woods by his protective grandfather, his only friend a duck. In town, he's bullied. When a wolf menaces the duck - as well as grandfather's fat cat and an ill-flying bird that Peter has befriended - Peter bravely tries to tree the wolf. Grandfather, the townspeople, and the hunters who have antagonized Peter figure in the dénouement. Written by
I saw Peter & the Wolf at its world premier in the Royal Albert Hall, accompanied by the Philharmonia orchestra. That's an electric experience that will be hard to duplicate But it certainly won't detract from watching the film in future. Is it a re-imagining of P&TW, a reinterpretation, or a modernisation? Actually, it's all three. Peter's stamping ground is visualised in a depressed, cold and windswept forest somewhere in Eastern Europe; it's hard to tell if it's pre or post Soviet economic bloc. It could be any time, and that is the first great achievement of the film. Peter is a wan, pale and sullen young boy, garbed in hoody and dirty trousers, a stroppy kid, the type who lives down the road yet his surroundings are timeless. It raises the themes of conflict between rural and urban, youth and age and cruelty and compassion with great dexterity. It's an adaptation that speaks both to the past and the present, which is no mean feat.
The plot is well-known and well-worn: the down-trodden Peter escapes the confines of grim homestead and taciturn, unsentimental grand-pappy with his pet duck and a bird with a broken wing (supported by a balloon, in a very nice touch) to go playing in the unbounded, frosty woods. Until the wolf creeps in. After suffering a great loss at the wolf's paws, Peter must rise to the occasion and capture the beast, who is much stronger and more ferocious than Peter is, but less clever A rites of passage tale and an introduction to the orchestra for children, this version is actually quite gruelling in some respects. Impoverished and inhospitable, Peter's home life is plausibly miserable, and also easy to relate to: his run-ins with better clothed-and-fed peers and ugly hunters convey beautifully the threat of bullies and ignorant adults. Sharp and clever, but morose, Peter is a compelling hero, and the coda with him standing triumphant and grown, will provoke cheering and a quickened heartbeat.
The stop-motion animation is far less slick than that seen in Wallace and Gromit, but extends a naturalistic, un-burnished and at times almost ghoulish appeal. The slightly jerky movements, warped faces and grimy sets combine to create a world at once familiar yet also deformed, blighted by neglect and insensitivity. The animation also works amazingly well with the music, the movements of people and animals alike assuming the beats, leaps and whirls of the instruments. I guess you could call this a true musical, because while the characters may not leap into spontaneous song and dance, the music actually speaks for them. I'm not much of a music critic, nor do I know Sergei Prokofiev's piece (or any of his music, for that matter) at all well, but I still loved the soundtrack. It did sound modern, and had obviously adapted and moulded to fit the film with small nuances and flourishes, but I'm sure Prokofiev would have approved.
Considering the applause the film got, I'm certain no one else minded either.
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