Peter & the Wolf


Sergei Prokofiev Peter & the Wolf orchestra suite. A tale of two Peters: the image on the left with the dark blue background is the new Arthaus Peter & the Wolf (Catalogue #108113) that is region free. The image on the right with the duck and wolf is the old Arthaus Peter & der Wolf (Catalogue #502487) that is limited to Region B. The old version came out in 2010; the new version dates to September 1, 2014.

We think the animated film and the documentary will be the same. But there are changes in the presentation to ready  the new version for the world market. For example, the keepcase art and booklet for the old version was entirely in German ("und" in the title and "Oscar Gewinner" on the front). But the keepcase art for the new version is in English ("and" in the title and "Oscar Winner"). This situation is confusing to everyone except certain businessmen and lawyers. But the upshot is good because this is a very nice film that deserves to be seen worldwide. We have rewritten our review to help spread the news.

The feature firm lasts 34 minutes, and there is about an hour of high-quality bonus material. Mark Stephenson conducted a new recording of the Prokofiev score with the Philharmonia Orchestra.  Both discs will apparently have 7.1 dts-HD Master Audio surround sound. The auflösung or resolution is described on the keep case of the old disc as "1080/24P Full HD." It appears the resolution of the new disc is 1080i. Grade: X-A+

First comment. The stop-motion animation in this film, which required the work of scores of people over 5 years, is impressive and delightful. The storytelling is first rate too. It won an Oscar in 2008. There is no narration. It's a joy to watch as a nice short film and as an example of stop-motion animation at its peak. The disc also has interesting bonus materials about the music and the making of the film.

This film is short because the musical score was written for the attention span of young children. Finally, we are not sure how many adults would consider stop-motion animation to be a fine-arts form. For these reasons, we give this Peter & der Wolf the grade of X. But the grade is A+ if there are kids in your life, if you are interested in animation, or if you love Prokofiev. Henry McFadyen III 2010.

Second comment. When I was 5 or 6, my mom played Peter and the Wolf for me from an album of three 78-rpm discs recorded by RCA Victor in 1939 with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the traditional Prokofiev narration delivered by Richard Hale. I don't think I heard Peter and the Wolf for the next 65 years. But before I put this HDVD in 2011 on our Region B Blu-ray player, I could still sing the "Peter" leitmotive and I still remembered which instruments represent the bird, the duck, the cat, the grandfather, and the hunters.  I was expecting Suzie Tempelton's animated film to be like my mom's 78-rpm album. Well, the leap from 78-rpm to HDVD is pretty broad, and so is the difference between the Prokofiev narration and the Tempelton's animation.

By using the music only (and dropping the narration), Tempelton was able to move grandfather and his shack from old Russia to a spot right on the border between the vast Siberian wilderness and the squalor of a contemporary Russian village. But a bigger change was her transformation of the story from a cute nursery tale into a mini Bildungsroman ("apprentice novel") in which Peter grows from a victim into a victor. The more you watch this film, the more you see how cleverly it is put together. And there's just as much here to please the adults as the kids.

Here a screenshot from the documentary showing the scale of the models created for this. The craftsmanship and artistry that went into this is astounding:

Peter is a tender boy:

His best friend is the duck:

He lives here:

With his grandfather, who keeps his shotgun handy if a wolf should show up:

And a cat that sleeps with the old man:

Granddad sends Peter into town on an errand. Peter meets a cute Russian girl and is intimidated:

Some brutish older boys with hunting rifles terrify Peter:

In the picture above, Peter bought a blue balloon. Later he uses the balloon to help a bird that has an injured wing:

All is tranquil at the pond behind granddad's house until a hungry wolf appears:

Incredibly beautiful images like this are made with tedious manipulations of the tiny models for many individual frames per second:

Well, I'm not going to spoil the fun by discussing the adventures and misadventures of Peter and his animal friends after the wolf invades the land. Here granddad and Peter have the wolf in a cage and try to sell him in the town:

Peter has grown up a lot while capturing the wolf. He will not be easily intimidated again. To find out what happens next, get the film:

Why was this film made? It seems it was originally designed to be shown on ad hoc screens to spice up performances by symphony orchestras of Peter and the Wolf at pops concerts! What a waste of talent and treasure! The film has been a hit at festivals. But the video looks more brilliant and clear in my home theater than it likely will ever look in a movie theater or concert hall.

The music is rendered with great delicacy and verve in Master Audio surround sound. In its March 2011 issue, Gramophone called this the best video of Peter and the Wolf on the market.  Henry C. McFadyen Jr. 2014.

Here is the link to purchase the new region-free version:

Here is the link to purchase the original Region B version: