(This photo stolen from Suzie Templeton herself)
The phone rang tonight before dinner; it was Mom calling to tell me that tonight's "Great Performances" episode on PBS would be an animated version of Sergei Prokofiev's classic "Peter and the Wolf." I was excited for the girls to see it. I grew up listening to a record of it as a child -- over and over and over, ask my mom -- and I have always loved the music. I remember very little about the story, but the music is part of the soundtrack of my childhood. (I think my decision to learn to play the oboe can be credited 97% to my love for the duck's theme, whereas only 3% of the credit goes to my hopeless nerdiness.)
The girls were excited to be allowed to stay up an hour past their normal bedtime (even on spring break, Mommy is a Bedtime Fascist). At 8:00 we closed our book and snuggled down to watch.
It was clear that the animation was superb, but a big surprise was the fact that there would be no voice-over narration and no dialog. Suzie Templeton and her team won this year's Oscar for Best Animated Short Film for this little masterpiece, and no wonder. The entire story was skillfully told without words, using only stop-frame animation (aided by a little bit of computer animation, the follow-up documentary explained). I was riveted.
"Okay, this is Peter's music," I told the girls. "It's his theme song." As each new musical theme was introduced I explained to them what instrument they were hearing. "This sounds like an English horn to me," I said when Duck's theme started, boring the girls to tears, "But I think it's really an oboe."
The humor was delightful, the characters were charming and fresh, and the music was sublime. Smedley and Sparky were as giddy as their nerdy mother was.
And then the wolf showed up.
Suddenly the couch became mighty crowded as two girls tried to squirm into my lap at once. "It's okay," I purred. "It's just a story! Nothing's gonna hap --"
Prokofiev was Russian. This is not the happiest of tales. And there's a reason the mournful oboe played hapless Duck's theme: Duck was a Wolf Snack in seconds.
If you doubt the decibels that can be achieved by a four- and a seven-year-old who have been severely traumatized, you need only show them this particular scene from "Peter and the Wolf." Oh yeah -- Duck is a goner. How could I have forgotten that? I guess I'd still have wanted them to watch the film for its great beauty, extraordinary quality and, of course, the music . . . but I might have warned them . . .
. . . to DUCK. Someone should have warned Duck, anyway.
Please try to watch "Peter and the Wolf" if it comes around again. You can see an excerpt at http://www.pbs.org, and you can even buy the DVD. I may still buy it, unless I need the money to send the girls to a shrink.
All photos and information can be found here; that's where I got 'em.