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Music / Peter and the Wolf

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Peter and the Wolf (Пе́тя и волк in Russian) 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. The best known of these adaptations in Western media is probably the one from Disney's Make Mine Music! (1946), which gives the animals and hunters names.


This work provides examples of:

  • Adaptation Expansion: The characters get backstories in the 2006 version. Peter is a poor boy in a shantytown; the hunters are drunken louts that stuff him in a dumpster and threaten him with their guns. The Bird is a flightless crow that Peter assists with a helium balloon; the Cat is the grandfather's cherished pet, the duck is Peter's only real friend until he's Swallowed Whole by the wolf. And even the wolf has a backstory in the manual: She's female and has a litter of pups that she is trying to feed.
  • Adaptational Heroism: In the Disney version, 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.
  • Adaptational Villainy: The cat, in at least one version, is in cahoots with the wolf.
    • A similar situation occurs in the Sesame Street version, where the cat is played by Oscar the Grouch. Here he is more interested in causing trouble, reluctantly helping Peter and the Bird (Elmo and Zoe respectively) catch the wolf. He later comments on the eventual happy ending, saying that he doesn't like where the story is going, preferring that Peter get punished by Grandfather (played by Big Bird).
  • 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.
  • And I Must Scream: "If you listen very carefully, you'll hear the duck quacking inside the wolf's belly, because the wolf in his hurry had swallowed her alive."
  • Androcles' Lion: In the 2006 version. Peter releases the wolf after seeing its horrible fate and being abused by the onlookers. The wolf walks by Peter to the gate and leaves peacefully as a form gratitude.
  • Avian Flute: The bird is represented by the flute. While this may not be the Trope Maker, it is almost certainly the Trope Codifier.
  • The Big Bad 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.
  • Big, Thin, Short Trio: The hunters in the Disney version.
  • 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? Lampshaded when the grandfather muses "What if Peter hadn't caught the wolf''," implying that he's embarrassed by how wrong he was.
  • Butt-Monkey: The duck. The clumsiest of the characters, gets embarrassed by the bird, and in all versions but the Disney version, is devoured alive - and is still alive, inside the wolf, at the end of the story.
  • 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.
  • The Cavalry: Subverted in the Disney version, where the hunters appear while Peter struggles with the wolf. But as they come to aid, Peter has already overpowered the wolf.
  • Celebrity Cameo: The fairy tale has been narrated by countless celebrities over the decades, including Basil Rathbone, Sterling Holloway (voice of Winnie the Pooh in the original Disney cartoons), Eleanor Roosevelt, Alec Guinness, Peter Ustinov (twice!), Boris Karloff, José Ferrer, Captain Kangaroo, Leonard Bernstein, Sean Connery, Richard Attenborough, David Attenborough, Jacques Brel, Mia Farrow, David Bowie, Terry Wogan, William F. Buckley Jr., Paul Hogan, John Gielgud (twice!), Sting, "Weird Al" Yankovic, Patrick Stewart, Dame Edna, Ben Kingsley, Antonio Banderas, Sophia Loren (twice), Bill Clinton and Mikhail Gorbachev.
  • 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.
  • Cowboy Episode: Peter Schickele wrote a comical alternate text, "Sneaky Pete and the Wolf," which recasts the story as a showdown between Pete and a desperado named El Lobo. Hilarity Ensues.
  • 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 and slow 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, walking beside him with an identical expression until they reach the city gates. The script reveals the intended unfilmed ending: The wolf was trying to find food for her pups, and returns to them after she is freed.
  • 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 his chops. Subverted when the duck turns up alive at the end.
  • The Ditz: The duck, in the Disney version.
  • Dramatic Timpani: When the hunters enter, there are intermittent menacing timpani outbursts, meant to symbolize the firing of their blunderbusses.
  • Enemy Mine: In the 2006 film, Peter and the wolf briefly join together because they both hate the hunters. He escorts the wolf to the edge of town, step for step, and gives her a clear run back into the forest.
  • Emotional Bruiser: The hunters in the Disney version start crying rather messily when it briefly looks like Peter got eaten alive by the wolf.
  • Gender Flip: Though you have to go to the manual to find it, the wolf in the 2006 version is female and has a litter of pups to feed.
  • Getting Eaten Is Harmless: In the original, the duck survives being swallowed by the wolf. When the wolf is later captured and committed to a zoo, the duck is not liberated; instead, it remains imprisoned within the wolf, with the implication that it will survive there indefinitely. According to the story, the duck can still be heard quacking inside the wolf's belly.
  • Grandparental Obliviousness: The quest is done while Grandpa's asleep and oblivious of his grandson's disobedience.
  • Hammer and Sickle Removed for Your Protection: In the original version, Peter is a Young Pioneer, i.e. a member of the Soviet Union's communist youth organization. Western adaptations always drop this detail, even when they maintain the Russian setting.
  • Happy Ending: Depending on the version ...
  • Hungry Menace: In the 2006 version, the wolf is just a hungry predator looking for food for her cubs and herself. She didn't kill the duck out of spite or for the sake of evil. Duck was just unfortunate and couldn't escape in time. Peter realizes this in the end and releases the wolf back into the wild.
  • It's Personal: In the 2006 version, Peter's only real friends are the bird and the duck. When the wolf devours the duck alive, Peter assumes a Death Glare worthy of the wolf herself, and from that point on, stops at absolutely nothing to make sure she is captured - and suffers as he is suffering. He gets better in the end, and as he's escorting the wolf to the city gates, BOTH of them now wear that expression.
  • Jerkass: The hunters in the 2006 version are hard core versions of this trope. It loses them their quarry when Peter chooses the wolf over them at the end.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: If you dig deep enough. Grandfather is a bit hard on Peter, telling him to stay out of the woods. However, seeing how Peter's parents are never even mentioned, it's strongly implied that they are dead. This makes his protectiveness over his grandson all the more understandable.
  • 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.
  • Menacing Stroll: When Peter frees the wolf in the 2006 version, they stroll to the town gate together with identical Death Glares. Nobody, but nobody, dares get in their way.
  • Mickey Mousing: The various instrumental groups of the orchestra "voice" the characters and actions.
  • Misplaced Wildlife: The Bird in the 2006 version is very obviously a Pied Crow, which is an African bird. They might have meant it to be a Eurasian Magpie, something you can and do find in Russia, but it looks nothing like a magpie. Compare.
  • Morton's Fork: In the 2006 version, Peter is given an terribly unappetizing choice: To either let the wolf - that just devoured his best friend alive - win, or let the hunters who stuffed him in a garbage dumpster and brandished their guns at him win. He chooses the former and frees the wolf.
  • My Friends... and Zoidberg: In the Disney version, the wolf is listed separately from the other characters, having a visual introduction rather than having his 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).
  • Necessary Evil: In the 2006 version. The wolf isn't portrayed as a monster or demonic presence. The wolf was merely fulfilling her role in nature as a predator and hunted the duck because she was hungry and needed to provide food for her cubs.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: In the version narrated by Sting, the hunters are clearly modelled after Groucho, Chico, and Harpo.
  • Named by the Adaptation: In the Disney adaptation, everyone (except the wolf and Grandpapa) are given names: Sascha (the bird); Sonia (the duck); Ivan (the cat); and Misha, Yasha and Vladimir (the hunters — "that's Vladimir in the middle").
  • Offscreen Moment of Awesome: How the HELL did Peter and Ivan go from cowering from an incoming wolf to have the wolf bound and completely at their mercy? The Disney adaption sure isn't gonna tell you.
  • Somewhere, a Mammalogist Is Crying: At one point in the 2006 film, the wolf slashes Peter across the face with its claws. While this is not technically impossible, it is still unlikely. Wolf claws are dull because they are used for traction while running and cannot be retracted. Swatting with a paw is a very cat-like action, and not something canines tend to do because they rely mainly on their jaws for fighting and hunting.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Sonia the duck in the Disney version, who is swallowed alive in the original version. In fact, the storybook version of this adaptation has Sonia join Peter and the hunters in the parade through the village with the wolf bound up, with the illustrations showing her holding the wolf's tail.
    • Subverted in the Sesame Street version. Here, Telly Monster plays the duck, but when Papa Bear narrates the duck getting eaten, he calls it quits, pulling his bill off and leaving the scene. He comes back later as one of the Hunters alongside the the Two-Headed Monster.
  • Speaks Fluent Animal: Peter is able to talk to the bird. Lampshaded in the "Weird Al" Yankovic version which has Peter go "Wow! A talking bird!" when the bird appears.
  • Swallowed Whole: The wolf swallows the duck whole and alive.
  • Sympathy for the Devil: In the 2006 version, Peter sees some bullies abusing the helpless wolf after she is captured. He realizes that both her fates are unpleasant. She can either be humiliated and tortured as a circus animal or be sold as meat for the local butcher. Peter realizes that even though she killed his friend, she only did it because it was her basic nature. He feels sorry for her, and releases her back into the wild - and (unknowingly) back to her cubs.
  • 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".
    • This little "plot hole" is averted in the 2006 version. The pond is iced over, giving the duck no shelter at all from the hungry wolf when she comes calling.
  • 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, at one point Leaning on the Fourth Wall when Sascha spells out "волк" in the snow, which the narrator reads as "W-O-L-F!"note 


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