Animal Farm (1954 film)
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by George Orwell
|Narrated by||Gordon Heath|
|Music by||Mátyás Seiber|
|Distributed by||Distributors Corporation of America|
Animal Farm is a 1954 British-American animated comedy-drama film produced by Halas and Batchelor, based on the book Animal Farm by George Orwell. It was the first British animated feature (Water for Firefighting and Handling Ships, two feature length wartime training films, were produced earlier, but did not receive a formal cinema release). The US CIA paid for the filming, part of the American cultural offensive during the Cold War, and influenced how Orwell's ideas were to be presented. The CIA initially funded Louis de Rochemont to begin work on a film version of Orwell's work and he hired Halas & Batchelor, an animation firm in London that had made propaganda films for the British government.
Manor Farm is a formerly prosperous farm that has fallen on hard times, and suffers under the now-ineffective leadership of its aggressive and drunken owner, Mr. Jones. One night, Old Major, the prize pig and the second-oldest animal on the farm, calls all of the animals on the farm together for a meeting, where he decries their abuse and unhappiness under Jones, encouraging the animals to oust him, while emphasizing that they must hold true to their convictions after they have gained freedom. With that, he teaches the animals a revolutionary song before collapsing dead mid-song, to the animals' horror.
The next morning, Mr. Jones neglects to feed the animals for breakfast, and they decide to break into the storehouse to help themselves. When Mr. Jones wakes up and threatens them with his whip, the animals revolt and drive him away from the farm, and rename it "Animal Farm". Several of Jones' acquaintances in the surrounding village rally against them, but are beaten back after a fierce fight. The animals begin destroying every trace of the farmer's influence, starting with the weapons used against them. A subsequent investigation of the farmhouse leads them to concede against living there, though one of the head pigs, an antagonistic boar named Napoleon, takes interest in the abandoned house and in a litter of puppies left motherless, and trains them privately.
The Commandments of Animalism are written on a wall of the barn to illustrate their community's laws. The most important is the last, stating that "All animals are equal." All the animals work, but the workhorse, Boxer, and his friend Benjamin the donkey, who is also the film's protagonist, put in extra work. Snowball attempts to teach the animals reading and writing; food is plentiful, and the farm runs smoothly. The pigs elevate themselves to positions of leadership, and set aside special food items "by virtue of their brainwork".
As winter sets in, Snowball announces his idea for a windmill, while Napoleon opposes it. As Snowball defiantly swears to lower the animals' workdays, Napoleon has his dogs chase Snowball and kill him. Afterwards, Napoleon declares himself the new leader, along with Squealer as his propagandist, and makes changes. Meetings will no longer be held, but instead a committee of pigs will run the farm. The animals eventually work harder because of the promise of easier life once the windmill is completed.
During this time, the pigs also decide to alter their own laws. "No animal shall sleep in beds", is changed to "No animal shall sleep in beds with sheets", when the pigs are discovered to have been sleeping in the old farmhouse. Before long, Napoleon's greed drives him to negotiate with a local trader named Mr. Whymper for a supply of both jellies and jams. The price is all of the hens' eggs. When the hens discover this, they attempt to revolt by throwing their eggs at the pigs during an attempted seizure by force. To instill fear, Napoleon holds a "trial" and a sheep and duck join the hens accused as traitors. They are taken outside and murdered by the dogs, with their blood used to edit a commandment; "No animal shall kill another animal" becomes, "No animal shall kill another animal without cause". After their deaths, the revolutionary song is banned by Napoleon because he claims the dream of Animal Farm has been realized and the revolution is completed. He also threatens that the penalty for animals caught singing the song is death.
Growing jealous of Whymper's financial success due to his trading with Animal Farm, a hostile group of pirate farmers attack the farm. Mr. Jones, shunned for his failure and drunkenness, uses blasting powder to blow up the windmill. Though the animals win the battle, they do so at a great cost of lives and Boxer is wounded. Boxer continues working until he collapses one night while working on rebuilding the windmill. Napoleon sends for a van to take Boxer away, which Benjamin recognizes as the "death wagon" from Whymper's glue factory. Afterwards, a supply of alcohol is delivered. At the same time, Squealer delivers a phony speech, claiming to have been at Boxer's side at his deathbed, and states that his last words were to glorify Napoleon. The upset animals see through the propaganda and recognize how dictatorial Napoleon has become, but are driven away by the snarling dogs before anything can be done. That night, the pigs toast to Boxer's memory with the whiskey they bought with his life.
Years pass, and Napoleon, through civilizing his fellow pigs, has expanded the neighboring farms into an enterprise. The Commandments are reduced to a single phrase: "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others". This change finally spurs the oppressed animals of the nearby farms to gather at Animal Farm to decide upon their future. Napoleon holds a dinner party for a delegation of outside pigs, who congratulate him on having the hardest-working and lowest-consuming animals in the country. Napoleon gives a toast to a future where pigs own and operate farms everywhere.
Benjamin, overhearing the conversation, imagines the faces of all the pigs assuming the likeness of Mr. Jones, as he realizes the similarity between the two. Now knowing that things have become "worse than ever for ordinary creatures", all of the animals unite to overthrow Napoleon. The animals march upon the farmhouse, forcing Napoleon to call his guard dogs for help, only to see that the dogs are now drunk. The pigs are too afraid to overpower their infuriated attackers. Napoleon, now helpless, is unable to defend himself as he and his fellow pigs are trampled to death (off-screen), avenging Snowball's death as well as Boxer's death. Benjamin stands in grim triumph as he and his fellow animals retake the farm and more Benjamin become the leader.
The animation historian Brian Sibley doubts that the team responsible was aware of the source of the funding initiating the project, which came from the Central Intelligence Agency to further the creation of anti-communist art.
The "financial backers" influenced the development of the film: the altered ending, and that the message should be that "Stalin's regime is not only as bad as Jones's, but worse and more cynical," and Napoleon "not only as bad as JONES but vastly worse". And the "investors" were greatly concerned that Snowball (the Trotsky figure) was presented too sympathetically in early script treatments, and that Batchelor's script implied Snowball was "intelligent, dynamic, courageous". This implication could not be permitted. A memo declared that Snowball must be presented as a "fanatic intellectual whose plans if carried through would have led to disaster no less complete than under Napoleon". De Rochemont accepted this suggestion.
Halas and Batchelor were awarded the contract to make the feature in November 1951 and it was completed in April 1954. The production employed about 80 animators.
To coincide with the film's release, a comic strip version was serialised in newspapers, drawn by Harold Whitaker, one of the animators.
Film critic C. A. Lejeune wrote at the time: "I salute Animal Farm as a fine piece of work… [the production team] have made a film for the eye, ear, heart and mind". Matyas Seiber's score and Maurice Denham's vocal talent have been praised specifically (Denham provided every voice and animal noise in the film). The animation style has been described as "Disney-turned-serious". The movie holds a 63% score at Rotten Tomatoes based on 8 reviews.
Some criticism was levelled at the altered ending, with one paper reporting, "Orwell would not have liked this one change, with its substitution of commonplace propaganda for his own reticent, melancholy satire".
The film took 15 years to recover its budget but earned profits in the next 5.
Comic strip adaptation
In popular culture
The Clash used an image from the film on their 45-RPM single "English Civil War". Gorillaz used footage from the film behind Benjamin Clementine in an animated elevator in the 2017 music video single Hallelujah Money.
The 'Special Edition' DVD includes a documentary hosted by Tony Robinson. It had a Blu-ray release in 2014.
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