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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 (namely, a 2006 animated short), theatre and ballet. It has also inspired many variants and parodies, some of which include different characters and instruments. 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:

  • 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. In the Disney version, 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."
  • 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. The 2006 version of the cat is a more of a Big Fat Jerk who gets his by first plunging into the icy pond when going after the Sparrow, and then getting pooped on by the Sparrow when he gets out of the water.
  • 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: Possibly. 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.
  • Emotional Bruiser: The hunters in the Disney version start crying rather messily when it briefly looks like Peter got eaten alive by the wolf.
  • 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 ...
  • 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. Given that one of them would have to be his own son or daughter, 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.
  • Mickey Mousing: The various instrumental groups of the orchestra "voice" the characters and actions.
  • 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).
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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