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Aired Wednesday March 26th, 2008 at 7:00 pm
Sergei Prokofiev, it is said, created Peter and the Wolf, story and music, in a mere three days. Suzie Templeton's animated version took a little longer - five years - but the results are equally felicitous. Templeton's 2008 Academy Award -winner will be presented on GREAT PERFORMANCES "Peter & the Wolf," airing Wednesday, March 26, 2008, at 7:00 p.m. on KUED.
Templeton's take on how little boys can find extraordinary courage, set to the Russian composer's famous score, offers the latest in stop-motion animation, particularly effective here in the tale's updating into the grim realities of a more contemporary Russia.
Rather than on a quaint forest edge, Peter shares a ramshackle house with his testy grandfather, an ancient car decaying in the snow outside. The nearby town where Peter encounters the Hunter, an adolescent bully in combat gear, is equally drab. But the results, as in the original, will fascinate children and adults alike. The animals, particularly the Duck and Cat, prove to be belly-laugh scene-stealers.
"Oldies will remember the work from school music lessons," wrote the London Observer of Oscar's best animated short, "while those coming to the story for the first time will be delighted with this darkly comic modernization."
Originally composed in 1936, Prokofiev's beloved score uses personified instruments in the orchestra to tell the story of the young hero and his animal friends: the Duck, the Bird and even the mischievous Cat (represented by oboe, flute and clarinet, respectively). How Peter captures the story's vulpine predator forms the crux of the narrative, which in Templeton's interpretation gets a few new twists and even a hint of young romance.
"I love the challenge of writing to fit a pre-existing form," says the award-winning animator who both adapted and directed "Peter & the Wolf." "The music's fantastic. I listen to it all the time, and have done for five years. I'm still not bored with it," she laughs.
Her favorite among the film's Lilliputian menagerie? "I think the Wolf really lives up to the music ... at least to the very proud, majestic French horns. You see this amazing, awesome, wild creature."
Templeton also indulged in some non-traditional casting for Peter's blue-eyed adversary. "I thought the animators would animate him in a more complex and interesting way if they imagined him as a female. They thought if it was a male it would just be very aggressive and one-dimensional. There was even a part in the script - which we dropped - when she appeared at the end with her cubs."
The puppets, created at the famous Se-ma-for animation studio in Lodz, Poland, where the film was made and which is featured in the behind-the-scenes documentary segment that concludes the telecast, were produced in silicone molds and have internal steel skeletons made of rods and ball-and-socket joints. "Movement" was created by meticulously adjusting each figure frame by frame for the camera. Director of photography Hugh Gordon utilized the same high-definition cameras that Tim Burton employed for 2005's Corpse Bride.
The ambitious project holds a special significance for producer Hugh Welchman, who came up with the idea in the first place. "If you ask anyone over the age of 30 about Peter and the Wolf, they can recall their first experience of it. But ask anyone under 30 and they have never heard of it. We wanted to find a way of re-introducing it to children."
Immediately following "Peter and the Wolf," viewers will be able to see The Metropolitan Opera's acclaimed production of "Hansel and Gretel" with Alice Coote and Christine Schafer playing the siblings, lost in a shadowy world of unknown menace, pursued by the witch who would devour them.
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