Classic FM – Facing old enemies

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Jeremy Nicholas

A stunning new animation of Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf will appeal to both young and old.

Who has not been enchanted at some time or other, whether in the concert hall or on disc, by this perennial children’s favourite? Well, prepare to be enchanted all over again! Award-winning animation director Suzie Templeton (Stanley, Dog) was signed up by UK production company BreakThru films, in partnership with the Oscar-winning Se-ma-for Studios in Poland, to film Prokofiev’s musical tale using the same stop-frame model animation technique popularised by Wallace & Gromit creators Aardman Animations. After three years of preparation, this visually stunning Peter and the Wolf took nearly a year to actually make. It’s a small masterpiece.

Templeton has remained remarkably faithful to the original and makes sense of character, atmosphere and location with far greater skill and conviction than any other animated version I’ve seen. Setting it in the present day, before the music begins she establishes Peter as a lonely orphan who lives with his over-protective Grandfather in a fortified cottage on the edge of a deep Russian forest. His only friends are his pet Duck and a mischievous Bird. This both dignifies Prokofiev’s hazy grasp of dramatic structure and provides a more believable springboard for the action.

The major changes are that the spoken narration has been cut – Prokofiev’s music was always more imaginative than his prose – and, because this is 2007, Peter now has a conscience and allows the Wolf to escape back into the forest rather than letting it be sold for meat in the city market. This is fine, though I was sorry not to hear the Duck quacking from inside the Wolf’s stomach ( in his hurry, you’ll recall, he swallowed the Duck alive). Templeton admits she couldn’t find a way to represent this moment “without being grotesque or too graphic”. Personally I like a bit of gruesome, but perhaps she’s right.

One clever added value extra of this film is that as well as its TV/DVD format (subtitles, by the way, are in English, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and Dutch) it’s been made to be screened in concert halls worldwide and accompanied by live orchestras. An excellent booklet goes into fascinating detail about the complex labour-intensive production procedures. Bonus materials include the director’s commentary over a rough edit and a behind-the-scenes documentary, both of which will appeal, like the film itself, to young and old alike.