The Observer – who’s afraid of the big bad Wolf?

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Get your Christmas off to a perfect start with this classic wintry tale marking 0 years since the work was commissioned by Joseph Stalin. Oldies will remember Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf from school music lessons, while those coming to the story for the first time will be delighted with this darkly comic modernization. The story and characters remain intact, albeit without narration, but gone are any twee Victorian outfits or cosy log cabins. Instead we are in contemporary Russia, where threatening bullies line graffiti-daubed streets and Peter and his grandfather live in depressing squalor. Grandfather sleeps next to an overflowing ashtray, while Peter skulks and scuffs his already tatty shoes in a dingy yard made of patched up planks and rusting metal. The dark undertones of this piece are not surprising considering director and adapter Suzie Templeton’s previous work Dog, about a boy dealing with the death of his mother and then his dog: an unsettling seven-minute animation for which she won a Bafta. Masterminded by London’s Breakthru Films, Peter and the Wolf uses puppets dressed in real fur, miniature sets and the painstaking stop-frame method favoured by Aardman Animations. Most of the filming was done in Lodz, Poland, where a team of 100 British and Polish animators, sculptors and artist worked for five years to bring this half-hour animation to life. Lead sculptor Ewa Maliszewka created nine versions of Peter before settling on the final puppet, which is reminiscent of a distorted Ron Mueck waxwork. Children will immediately identify with the huge eyes and elongated trailing limbs of Peter as he cares for his only friend Duck and defies the odds, and his grandfather, to catch the Wolf. Light relief and comedy comes in the form of Cat – a deliciously fat puffball whose heavily made-up eyes watch evilly over Peter and his friends. The emphasis here is on the story, with the music taking the back seat for the first time, although all the characters retain their signature tunes, and a new recording by the Philharmonia Orchestra premiered at the Royal Albert Hall in September is allowed to breathe in its entirety. Prokofiev’s deliberately ambiguous ending will leave children guessing and prompt plenty of discussion about what happens next: we hear Duck quack from inside the Wolf’s stomach, but will she live or not? Snuggle down and stave off the Christmas Eve stocking excitement for as long as you can.

Katie Toms