Peter and the Wolf
Studio: Columbia TriStar Home Video
U.S. Rating: Not Rated
Canadian Rating: G
Film Length: 49 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Audio: English Dolby Digital 2.0 surround, French, Spanish, Portuguese
Release Date: November 25, 2003
Kirstie Alley, Lloyd Bridges, and Ross Malinger star in this classic tale of a boy whose courage triumphs over his fear. Receiving the 1996 Emmy Award for outstanding prime-time Children’s Program, Sergei Prokofiev’s musical masterpiece is brought to the screen with a combination of live talent and animation from the hands of Chuck Jones, famous for creating Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner. I remember Peter and the Wolf when I was young, listening to the story on a 45 LP storybook record, waiting for the chimes to turn the page. I’ve forgotten the story up to now, and for those of you who have faint memory of it too, let me refresh it for you as it is told here.
This film’s story begins with Kirstie Alley’s character Annie returning from America for a visit to her childhood home that is still occupied by her father (although the place of origin is never said – but the scenery looks like Switzerland despite being a Russian story). Annie’s son Peter (Malinger) never knew his grandfather (Bridges) until now. Reflecting on the past brings stories of old – and this is when the story of Peter and the Wolf takes place.
It is the first day of spring and Peter cuts loose in the meadows behind his house and meets up with bird, dizzy duck, and cat. He is confronted by grandfather who pulls him out of the meadows because of the danger that lurks from the nearby forest. That danger is the wolf – and Peter wouldn’t be much after the wolf gobbles him whole.
Watching from afar, Peter sees the wolf coming out of the woods and feeds on the dizzy duck. After that meal the wolf is after the bird and the cat that are stuck hiding in the tree. They put their instincts aside because of the common danger that lurks below. Peter comes up with the plan of rescuing them and ensuring that the wolf no longer becomes a threat to the beautiful meadows any longer.
It was nice to see this tale again after so many years. Prokofiev’s music is still used throughout this release and rightly so since this story is told by his music. Peter and the Wolf was first played in 1936 in Russia. As a symphony, each style of instrument acted as the character using sound as the only storyteller. Prokofiev’s choice in instruments is enhanced by the communication between each style of instrument to give the impression of characters talking while continuing the musicality of the piece. It is very effective and thus is probably the reason why this musical tale stays popular today. As for this new production, the acting was a little corny; but it was still good entertainment children will like. I was able to put myself in the eyes of a child again and have fun with this title.
Video Quality? /
I am disappointed that the quality of this film wasn’t presented better than it is. This is a 1.33:1 full screen presentation and the image suffers from a lot of film grain, some pixelization, dirt specs and a very soft image plaguing both outdoor and interior live shots. Black levels are too deep and lack can definition, and colours look thick, pasty, and very undefined. There is an overall brown hue to the live action. The intention could have been the ambient light from the fireplace, but it didn’t look natural so I’m marking against it. The animation looks fine for the most part except for the odd dirt speck on the film itself.
Audio Quality? /
The classical soundscape conducted by the RCA Symphonic Orchestra is wide and pleasing but lacks good resolution and dynamics. The dialogue is veiled, and the narration by Kirstie Alley is very forward and sounds like its spoken in a can. There are some nice moments of spaciousness in the forest, but for the most part the music provides most of the surround information. Despite bearing the logo in the end credits of mixed on a THX soundstage, this soundtrack is a little of a disappointment as I felt there was a missed opportunity to provide a very high quality classical music score.
Special Features? /
For this release I was surprised to see quality features. Despite being short, they are to the point and informative and friendly enough for children not to get confused. The Musical World of Peter and the Wolf – Introduction to the Symphony (10m49s) gives a brief background of the Russian story and discusses the instruments that are associated with the characters.
Next is Beyond the Meadow Documentary (15m04s), and takes us behind the scenes to the talent, director, recording, and set building. While interesting, I’m not sure if young kids would sit through this one as it seems a little more adult orientated in the way it is presented (in other words – it’s a little ‘dry’ for kids).
Lastly is an Animals and Instruments section, a game to make the ‘perfect match’ with the animals provide on the left side of the screen and the instruments on the right. One must play with the ‘arrow’ and ‘enter’ buttons to pick an animal and then pick an instrument. Once the choice is made, a short video clip of that animal and the associated “tune” with the sound of the instrument you picked will be played along. For those who have trouble making decisions there is a button in the middle that when pressed will randomly pick a combination for you.
There are also trailers for other films.
(*Note: the first time I put the disc in it went straight to the main menu. The second time I put the disc in it started playing the trailers on this disc).
Overall this is a good little disc and is recommended to see the tale again. While the performances were ok, it is a kids film so it was probably intentional to give it that friendly feeling. The only thing I would like to see on this disc is an audio option just to play the music of Prokofiev’s piece as we watch the animation sequence. No sound effects, no dialogue. Given this production won an Emmy for its genre you can’t go wrong for a stocking stuffer this Christmas.