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Monday, March 7, 2011

PETER AND THE WOLF (2006)

Suzie Templeton’s Oscar®-winning adaptation of Sergei Prokofiev’s classic concert piece is stunning, a masterpiece of Stop-Motion animation. Prokofiev’s 1930s visit to the Disney Studios inspired the score, but he couldn’t have been pleased with the cutesy version that appeared in MAKE MINE MUSIC/’46. (Did he ever see it?) The music is ‘arranged;’ Sterling Holloway’s narration is puerile; and both the tone & style have gone soft. It’s rarely revived. Templeton has reimagined & grounded the story, toughened up its narrative & psychology. The score doesn’t kick in for a good half reel, but then the music plays intact. We’re in a backwater town in contemporary Russia, and the season has been moved to winter. (Makes the wolf that much hungrier.) Peter is no longer a roly-poly pushover who lucks into his catch, but a willful, smart, stubborn outsider with something to prove to the roughneck townies, his over-protective Grandfather, as well as the wolf, especially when his pet duck is turned into lunch. (Disney gave the duck a reprieve.) The stop-motion work and the settings are remarkably handsome simply as artifacts, but combined with the music & the improved storyline, the sum is even greater than the fine parts. The rejiggered ending, which manages to be dangerous and politically correct, is flat-out thrilling. Templeton and her team show an eye & ear that honors Prokofiev by treating his work in a manner that’s as serious as it is modern, and fit for the grownup in all kids.

Available on the Magnolia DVD: A Collection of 2007 Academy Award Nominated SHORT FILMS - the other two animated pics also feature some fine Stop-Motion work, and the Live Action shorts are all watchable, if terribly conventional.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: There are dozens of recordings of the original Prokofiev score, but Baby-Boomer Movie Mavens might enjoy hearing the young Brandon de Wilde who made a recording in his MEMBER OF THE WEDDING/’52, SHANE/’53 cracked voice heyday. It’s with the Vienna Pro Musica/Hans Swarowsky in reasonable mid-‘50s mono.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAYII: Calling all baby boomers! Remember the old theme for Rocky & Bullwinkle? It’s a knock-off of Prokofiev’s theme for Peter, but ‘bent’ into heavy chromatic mode. As if it were only being played on the black keys. Cool.

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