Classic stories will always be used as a basis, or merely inspirations, for new stories. These can either be faithful re-tellings or new interpretations. For this month’s Movies in Motion, we look at a new take on a classic story and the winner of the 2008 Academy Award for Best Animated Short: the beautiful Peter and the Wolf by Suzie Templeton.
On catching his Grandson looking through a hole in the gate, Peter's grandfather sends him on an errand. In town, Peter views other children playing and gets thrown into a bin by bullies. While being comforted by his loyal Duck, Bird signals to the forest. Peter steals the key from his sleeping Grandfather and his sleeping ginger Cat to open the gate. Once in the forest, Peter, Duck and Bird frolic and play with their newfound freedom. Peter helps Bird once again take flight with the aid of a blue balloon and some rope while Duck skates around on a frozen lake. Grandfather’s Cat awakens and tries to pounce on Bird, but misses and instead breaks through the frozen lake. Soaked, Cat stalks away.
As Peter and his animal companions play, Grandfather awakens to the open gate. He finds Peter and drags him back through, locking the gate behind them. Peter peeks through the hole at his animal friends on the other side and sees a Wolf approaching. He attacks Cat who escapes up a tree then turns on Duck. Peter signals for his beloved friend to run to the hole in the gate, but the Wolf eats Duck in one before she reaches him.
Saddened and angry, Peter takes a net and climbs over his house back to the forest to help his remaining Bird friend. As the Wolf again attacks both Cat and Bird, Peter tries to imprison the Wolf. After being attacked himself, Peter stands triumphant as he captures the Wolf.
The story of Peter and the Wolf is inspired by the composition of Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev. Prokofiev was approached to write a piece to encourage children’s musical tastes in 1936. Although not met which much acclaim in its own time, the story is now considered a classic and has been redone numerous times in different media. This stop-motion animated version is directed by animator Suzie Templeton and although inspired by Prokofiev’s classic tale, this version takes a new approach.
The story in its entirety is not a complicated one. The story is also told without dialogue, but driven solely through its soundtrack and action. It is simplistic and audiences may wonder how such a story can cover a thirty-minute short film. The answer to this is in Templeton’s style of storytelling and direction. The piece is not merely about the progression of the story, but the moments the characters share with one another. The sequence on the ice, for example, is almost ten minutes of the film and although it may not necessarily drive the plot forward, it is a treat to behold. Templeton has made her characters intriguing enough for audiences to simply watch them play without the aid of dialogue.
The main deviation from the original is the story's conclusion. In Prokofiev’s version, the Wolf’s fate is left unknown as the captured prize is handed over. Here, Templeton lets Peter and his Wolf share a moment together which leads to an act of compassion. Peter watches as the Wolf shares the same taunts he endured at the hands of bullies. He takes control and releases the beast, who runs off into the night.
For the animated style of the piece, Templeton has gone for a more traditional style of stop-motion. This is not glazed or polished, but edgy and textured. The characters are slower moving and slightly more rigid, giving the piece a classic appeal.
Peter is the character that conveys and develops the most in the story. Peter is an isolated character, seen in his distance from other characters and the silence that surrounds him. The character changes the moment his beloved friend is taken from him. His capture of the Wolf gives him the confidence to stand up to the bullies, but he is still a compassionate character, which is shown in his final act.
Duck is perhaps the most lovable of all the characters, which makes her fate all the more horrific. Her love for Peter is evident in the moments they share together. She playfully nuzzles or pecks at him and their bond is undeniable. Cat, although also threatened by the Wolf, is a less sympathetic character. Cat tries in vain to capture Peter’s friends, but fails. Cat also looks on hungrily as Duck is eaten whole by the Wolf.
The music within the short is the original from Prokoiev’s composition. This has been re-recorded by the Philharmonia Orchestra and, on the film tour, is often performed live.
Each character in the piece has their own theme and instrument that accompanies them. These are all used to convey character, mood and tone. Bird has a Flute theme, which accompanies and builds as Bird takes flight. Duck has an Oboe theme, which is more playful and soft. Cat has the clarinet, which emphasises the animal's stalking nature of the birds. Grandfather has a Bassoon, which gives him dominance over his scenes and the Wolf has arguably the most striking theme with French Horns, that give him a powerful and dangerous presence. Peter has String Instruments, but also is shown heavily in silence.
At thirty-minutes long, this is the longest shot to ever win the Animated Short Academy Award. For such a simple story, the premise may seem drawn out or lacking as a concept. But in Suzie Templeton’s hands, it is a delightful story that takes Peter and the audience from innocence to experience.
A poignant and beautiful take on a classic short story. Templeton has managed to reinvent an old story by adding her own unique style and giving the piece new meanings. Boasting a beautiful soundtrack and score presented through incredibly detailed stop-motion animation. We can only hope that Templeton’s talent will take her to the big screen and a full-length feature film.