The Times – Peter and the Wolf

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Neil Fisher

Peter and the Wolf.  The Wolf and Peter.  Sooner or later someone was going to reinterpret a seemingly straightforward relationship.  Shouldn’t Prokofiev’s glowering wolf be allowed to eat that careless duck, oboe accompaniment or not?  And what gives Peter the right to trap the beast just for obeying its animal instincts?

The makers of a new animated adaptation of the classic fable have clearly thought long and hard about these questions.  And, judging by the delighted gasps of the audience at Saturday night’s premiere, the new film (directed by Suzie Templeton) has come up with just the right sort of answers.

There’s no narrator in this version, but the story is clearer than ever.  Peter is trapped in what looks like a makeshift army barracks by his terrifying grandfather.  Outside is a decaying urban sprawl, where the normally jolly huntsmen are drunken squaddies.  And yet it’s the countryside, with its dangerously inviting frozen lakes and giant, gnarled oaks, that the old man unsuccessfully tries to prevent Peter exploring.

So it’s little surprise to find that Peter ends up putting wolf above man, even if the beast has just taken such obvious pleasure in swallowing up his anatine pal.  But Templeton’s vivid animation reminds us that the two have plenty in common, not least their piercing blue eyes: they’re outsiders, and ultimately need to stick together.

Thankfully Templeton also makes plenty of room for humour.  No narrator could ever make grandfather’s cat this fat and self-important, or draw as many giggles from the duck’s high-spirited exploits moments before his untimely demise.  Out on DVD from November 6, this Peter should make lots of little wolf-cubs very content come Christmas.

Any other business?  Before their perfectly judged live accompaniment to the new film, the Philharmonia ploughed through two crowd-pleasers under the conductor Mark Stephenson.  Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No 2 was a fairly crude affair, despite some moments of sensitivity from the soloist Eduard Kunz.  Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, delivered up in the Ravel orchestration, trundled along well enough, but can’t Templeton be persuaded to animate that piece as well?  I’d pay good money to see Baba-Yaga in her mortar and pestle as well as hear her.