Peter and the Wolf

Film Review by Dean Duncan May 21, 2015

This is an amazing demonstration of perspective, especially when set against the way more familiar Disney version. When you view the familiar from a different angle, it’s suddenly not so familiar anymore. In fact, the incontrovertible can suddenly become unrecognizable, or inconceivable. When comparing the two films, Disney and Sterling Holloway emerge as being ideologically overdetermined. Important questions arise. Who says that the wolf, in his habitat, following the directives of instinct, is the bad guy? Why must everything always end in conquest? Sentimental beasts and apple-cheeked boys will win you your point, but that doesn’t mean you’ve won it fairly. (The Disney is not only ideological, but also archetypal as well; there’s room for liking and critiquing both.) Given the pretty convincing contemporary Russian milieu here (executed by a bunch of Poles and Brits), who’s to say that this sleeping, grudgingly affectionate, probably alcoholic Grandfather is all that much better than the Darwinian clarity and nobility of the wild? In support of this idea, note the feral beauty of the child.

The pre-wolf interlude that goes on outside grandpa’s compound is really light and funny. That’s a neat trick, since the (hilarious) cat is trying to kill his evolutionary subordinates this whole time. The advent of the wolf is electrifying. The design of these creatures! No second chance for Sonja, this time. The comic invention and technical execution of what follows is quite awesome. Look at those fore/mid/backgrounds! The battle on and around the ice (Eisenstein, 1938?) is really distended, with the result that the child really earns his laurels, while the wolf maintains our admiration. As for the shocking conclusion, it’s like Nora Helmer slamming that door, or Huck Finn embracing damnation. Not only the writing on the wall, but the wall come tumbling down.

The familiar tale, narrated by a different familiar voice:

The film you may not know: