"Peter and the Wolf" is a combination of children's story and musical composition by Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev. During performances, a narrator tells the story while accompanied by music played by an orchestra. Each character in the story is represented by a Leitmotif
played on a unique instrument.
The story tells the tale of an encounter of a young boy named Peter with a wolf.
The other characters are Peter's grandfather, a duck, a bird, a cat and an unspecified number of hunters.
The work has been recorded numerous times by many different orchestras, and has also been adapted to a variety of other media, including animation, stop-motion animation, theatre and ballet. It has also inspired many variants and parodies, some of which include different characters and instruments. For a partial list, see the Wikipedia article
This work provides examples of:
- Adaptational Villainy: The cat, in at least one version, is in cohorts with the wolf.
- Inverted by the Disney version, where the cat (described as "a peaceful, fun-loving sort, maybe a little shy on brains — you know the type") takes on a much more heroic role. While initially trying to eat the bird, he afterwards teams up with Peter to capture the wolf and save the bird's life.
- The Alcoholic: In one adaptation (the one narrated by Sting), the duck nearly misses her cue because she's too busy drinking at the bar, and she is literally thrown onto the set by the production crew. She then offers her drink to Peter, who responds with a scolding finger. She continues to carry the bottle with her for the rest of the scene until she accidentally drops it in the pond while arguing with the bird.
- Always Chaotic Evil: The wolf, except in the 2006 version. Taken Up to Eleven in the Disney version, where the wolf is pure evil, and the only character in the film without any personality or sentience.
- Broken Aesop: Peter is told by his grandfather NOT to go outside because the Wolf might get him. In the end Peter is taken inside, but when the wolf arrives: guess who does go outside and saves the day? So... er.... what's the moral of the story again?
- Butt Monkey: The duck.
- Cats Are Mean: The main role of the cat is to serve as a pursuer to the bird, though the wolf is the Big Bad of the story.
- Cat Up a Tree: In this case, the cat is up the tree to escape the wolf, not to get rescued by the fire department.
- Conveniently an Orphan: It is never implied that Peter is an orphan, but at the same time we only know he has a very protective grandfather. His parents are never mentioned.
- Darker and Edgier or Lighter and Softer: These tropes apply to some adaptations. For example, the Walt Disney adaptation has Peter hunting the wolf using a pop gun and makes it clear that the duck survives, whereas the "Weird Al" Yankovic version makes it very clear that the duck dies a horrible, painful death inside the belly of the wolf...and then there's Neil Torbin's Peter and The Werewolf where the duck (now a raven) is practically the Sole Survivor...which was played for laughs.
- Then there is a middle ground of sorts in the 2006 version, where Peter is sullen and lonely boy living in a poor town, the hunters are drunken bullies, and the duck (Peter's best friend) is killed by the wolf and we see the whole thing. But then somewhat subverted in how the wolf is portrayed- she is dangerous since she is a hunter looking for a meal but also somewhat noble in that she does not hurt anyone when Peter sets her free.
- Dead Hat Shot: In the Disney animated adaptation of Peter and the Wolf, the wolf chases the duck into a tree, and comes out with feathers flying, licking its chops. Subverted when the duck turns up alive at the end.
- Happy Ending: Everyone lives, even the wolf!
- The Ditz: The duck, in the Disney version.
- Jump Scare: The moment when the cat slowly approaches the little bird until Peter suddenly shouts: "Look out!" Many children listening to this scene have jumped in their seats. Luckily the bird heard Peter's cry and was able to fly away.
- Kid Hero and The Hero: Peter.
- Leitmotif: The entire story is built on this trope, and it is perhaps one of the best known examples of Leitmotif.
- Bird: flute
- Duck: oboe
- Cat: clarinet
- Grandfather: bassoon
- Wolf: French horns
- Hunters: woodwind theme, with gunshots on timpani and bass drum
- Peter: string instruments
- Bob the Janitor: accordion
- The wolf's Leitmotif has been re-used a couple of times in other media to create a sense of menace, such as it being the theme of Scut Farkus in A Christmas Story, and in the accompaniment of "The Meek Shall Inherit" from the stage version of Little Shop of Horrors, as the unscrupulous salesmen close in on Seymour.
- My Friends... and Zoidberg: In the Disney version, the wolf is listed separately from the other characters, having a visual introduction rather than having its leitmotif described (it is never mentioned in the film that French horns are used for the wolf, unlike every other character). The narrator simply states, "There is also a wolf", in contrast to the fanfare he gave all of the other characters. This was likely to emphasize the wolf's lack of personality (see Always Chaotic Evil above).
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: In the version narrated by Sting, the hunters are clearly modelled after Groucho, Chico, and Harpo.
- No Name Given: Averted in the Disney adaptation, when everyone (except the wolf) is given names: Sascha (the bird); Sonia (the duck); Ivan (the cat); and Misha, Yasha and Vladimir (the hunters — "that's Vladimir in the middle").
- That Russian Squat Dance: Performed by villagers at the end of the Disney version
- Too Dumb to Live: In at least one version, the duck was safe from the cat because she was in the pond, but then when the wolf arrives, she steps out of the pond and promptly gets eaten. As The Narrator, Sting lampshades this by referring to her actions as "foolish".
- Translation Convention: Surprisingly, averted in the Disney version. All the in-universe writing is in Russian and a narrator talks over the in-universe dialogue.
- Savage Wolf: The titular wolf of the story is the villain and antagonist of the story. He eats the duck and attempts to eat the other characters.
- Swallowed Whole: The wolf swallows the duck whole and alive.