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NY Post
21 Oct 2023

NextImg:Stream It Or Skip It: ‘Peter and the Wolf’ on Max, an Animated Short that Reinvigorates a Familiar Tale

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Peter & the Wolf (2023)

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Sergei Prokofiev’s classic musical fairy tale Peter and the Wolf (now streaming on Max) gets its umpteenth iteration – I counted; umpteen is greater than the nth time, but less than a zillion – via Irish musician Gavin Friday and his pal Bono. The two artists originally collaborated on a recording and accompanying book 20 years ago to benefit the Irish Hospice Foundation, with Friday arranging the music to accompany Bono’s illustrations. Now, their version of the story has become a 33-minute animated short – and it’s visually delightful and thematically poignant. 

The Gist: Hello, Bono – there he is, painting a rough outline of a wolf on a glass wall. Then the film transitions to a boy in a car, drawing the same wolf in the condensed moisture on the window. This is Peter. His grandfather is behind the wheel. They pull away from the graveyard. Friday narrates, personified as a Gavin Friday bug with sunglasses and an earring, flitting about the frame. He explains how Peter lives with his grandfather in a cottage by a meadow, and the meadow butts up against a dark forest. Peter looks at photos of what appears to be his mother, and his mother appears to be in the cemetery. He’s a sad kid, and his grandfather is surely a sad father.

Before we get on with the story in which Peter encounters a handful of animals, let’s make note of the film’s visual aesthetic. It’s black-and-white, with the occasional splash of red. Peter wears a punkish mohawk and a shirt with a red Charlie Brownish zigzag on it. He and the other living characters are 2-D animations navigating practical miniature sets. It’s a richly textured world tinged with melancholy, and it’s quite lovely. 

Anyway. Peter goes outside to fart around in the yard. A bird sings with the voice of a flute, bickering with a silly goose of a duck who galumphs around dopey and carefree like the Bill the Cat of ducks. A cat stalks them; the cat’s name is Pussy. Peter assembles a makeshift slingshot out of an old set of bicycle handlebars, and takes aim at the bird, but senses his conscience and knocks over a tin can instead. He opens the gate and kicks a diver’s mask and snorkel to the duck, who straps it on and dives gleefully into the pond. (Do ducks need snorkels? This one apparently does.) Grandfather doesn’t think Peter should be playing out there – a wolf prowls these woods, see, and it’s sneaky and it’s toothy. And of course the wolf arrives, first as shadows and then behind trees, and then – well, I hope you didn’t grow too attached to the duck. 

What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: I’m pretty sure every kid who went to grade school in the 20th century watched Disney’s 1946 version of Peter and the Wolf in music class. (Is it streaming on Disney+? Of course not!)

Photo: Max

Performance Worth Watching Hearing: The only voice we hear is Friday’s, and he’s an engaging and spirited narrator. 

Memorable Dialogue: Friday: “Are the loved ones we lost ever really gone? If you listen closely, you might just hear their call.”

Sex and Skin: None.

Our Take: This Peter and the Wolf isn’t quite the music lesson of the Disney version, as the sounds – which add banjos and accordions to Prokofiev’s beloved orchestral themes and melodies – take a backseat to the visuals, which are stirring and original. It also deposits the narrative in a more contemporary setting with a deeper emotional subtext, fleshing out Peter as a boy who feels directionless in his grief. Its most inspired alteration is the general tone, which feels ever so slightly creepy and haunted, and meshes nicely with the visual presentation of the wolf, first as a shadowy stalker, then painted over with Bono’s sketchy one-dimensional predator, which eventually lifts to show a vulnerable creature that’s simply doing what’s in its nature. It’s a work that not only feels vibrant in its message and artistry, but also renders a familiar story fresh. That’s no easy feat.

Our Call: It probably won’t replace your preferred version of the story, but this Peter and the Wolf  is well worth a half-hour of your life. STREAM IT.

John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan.