Animal Farm (1954 film)

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Animal Farm
Animal Farm (1954).jpg
Directed byJohn Halas
Joy Batchelor
Written byJoy Batchelor
John Halas
Borden Mace
Philip Stapp
Lothar Wolff
Based onAnimal Farm by George Orwell
Produced byJohn Halas
Joy Batchelor
StarringMaurice Denham
Narrated byGordon Heath
Music byMátyás Seiber
Distributed byAssociated British-Pathé (United Kingdom)
Louis de Rochemont Associates
Distributors Corporation of America (United States) [2][3]
Release date
  • 29 December 1954 (1954-12-29) (New York City)
  • 7 January 1955 (1955-01-07) (London)
Running time
72 minutes
CountriesUnited Kingdom
United States[5]

Animal Farm is a 1954 British-American animated drama and propaganda film commissioned by the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).[7][8][9] and directed by both John Halas and Joy Batchelor, and produced by Halas and Batchelor, based on the 1945 novel of the same name by George Orwell. It was the first British animated feature.[10] Although the film was a financial disaster, it quickly became a staple of classrooms in America and Britain.[11][12][13]

The film rights for a movie adaptation of Animal Farm were bought from Orwell's widow after she was approached by agents working for the Office of Policy Coordination (OPC), a branch of the CIA that dealt with the use of culture to combat communism.[14] There are many differences between the animated movie and the original book, changes which were made on request by the Americans to solidify the anti-Stalinist message of the film.

Maurice Denham provided the voice for all the animals in the film.[15]


Manor Farm is a formerly prosperous farm that has fallen on hard times, while suffering 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, much to their horror.

The next morning, Mr. Jones neglects to feed the animals for breakfast, and they decide to break into his storehouse to help themselves. When Mr. Jones wakes up, before threatening them with his whip, the animals revolt and drive him away from the farm, eventually renaming 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 decide against living there, though one of the head pigs, a greedy Saddleback boar named Napoleon, takes interest in the abandoned house. He finds a litter of puppies left motherless and begins to raise them in secret.

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. Meanwhile, Snowball attempts to teach the animals about reading and writing. Food becomes 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 hunt down and slaughter Snowball. Afterwards, Napoleon denounces Snowball as a traitor and declares himself the new leader of Animal Farm, along with Squealer as his propagandist. He abolishes the practice of holding meetings to determine farm policy and appropriates all decision-making powers to himself. The animals eventually work harder because of the promise of an easier life, once the windmill is completed.

During this time, the pigs also decide to alter their own laws. "No animal shall sleep in a bed" is changed to "No animal shall sleep in a bed 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" where a sheep and duck join the hens accused as traitors. They are taken outside and butchered by the dogs, with their blood used to add the words "without cause" to the end of the commandment "No animal shall kill another animal." Napoleon bans "Beasts of England", declaring that the revolution is complete and the dream of Animal Farm has finally been realized. He then threatens to execute any animal caught singing it.

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 dynamite to blow up the windmill with himself inside it. 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 secretly delivered. At the same time, Squealer delivers a phony speech, claiming to have been near 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 oppressive 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 by consuming whiskey they bought with his life.

Years pass and Napoleon, through civilizing his fellow pigs, has expanded the neighboring farms into an enterprise. The pigs start to resemble humans, as they walk upright, carry whips, drink alcohol and wear clothes. 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, briefly imagines that all the pigs have taken on the likeness of Mr. Jones.

Realizing that their living situation is even worse than it was before the revolution, the animals storm the farmhouse to overthrow Napoleon and avenge the deaths of their comrades including Snowball and Boxer. Napoleon tries to summon his guard dogs, but they are too drunk to respond, while the pigs in attendance are too scared to face the invading horde. The film closes with the animals smashing through the house and trampling Napoleon and the pigs to death before reclaiming the farm, with Benjamin standing in grim triumph at their head.


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.[7][8]

Halas and Batchelor were awarded the contract to make the feature in November 1951 and it was completed in April 1954. The production employed a staff of about 80 animators.[16]


Much of the pre-release promotion for the film in the UK focused on it being a British film instead of a product of the Hollywood studios.[17]

Scenes from Animal Farm, along with the 1954 TV program Nineteen Eighty-Four, were featured in "The Two Winstons", the final episode of Simon Schama's program A History of Britain broadcast June 18, 2002.

The CIA obtained the film rights to "Animal Farm" from Orwell's widow, Sonia, after his death and covertly funded the production as anti-Communist propaganda. Some sources assert that the ending of the story was altered by the CIA (in the book, the pigs and humans join forces) to press home their message, but it is equally possible that the more upbeat ending of the movie was an artistic decision, to give the film more audience appeal.

When first released in 1954, the British Film Board felt the film was not appropriate for children and gave it a rating certificate of "X", prohibiting anyone younger than 18 from seeing the film. The rating has since been amended to "U" (Universal), stating the film as fit for audiences of all ages.


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".[18] 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".[19] The movie holds a 69% score at Rotten Tomatoes based on 13 critic reviews.[20]

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".[19]

The film took 15 years to recover its budget but earned profits in the next 5 years.[6]

Differences between the film and the book[edit]

Flag of Animal Farm in the animated film.
  • In the book, Jones is married and has helpers on his farm, while in the film, Jones is either not married or widowed and is the only human on the farm.
  • In the book, Old Major teaches the animals the song 'Beasts of England,' which has lyrics. Even though the animals do sing in the film, there are no lyrics and it is just animal noises.
  • In the book, Benjamin was an old cynical donkey. In the film, he is not cynical and looks much younger than his original counterpart.
  • In the book, there were three horses (Boxer, Clover and Molly). In the film, Boxer is the only horse known to be there, but a white horse can be seen in many scenes, and it is seemingly Clover.
  • In the book, Napoleon was a Berkshire pig. But in the film, he is a British Saddleback.
  • In the film, Old Major dies in front of the animals while they were singing 'Beasts of England'. In the book, he dies a few days later and is buried; his skull is subsequently dug up and put on display, then finally buried again.
  • In the book, it was a cow who breaks open the door to the feed shed, while it was a number of animals in the film.
  • The animals' rebellion takes place in the morning in the film, while it takes place in midday in the book.
  • In the film, after Snowball is banished, Napoleon states that he will make the farm's decisions from then on. In the book, it was a committee of pigs who decided them from then on.
  • Jones tries to retake the farm, with the help of the other farmers, soon after being overthrown in the film.
  • Bluebell and Pincher were adapted out from the 1954 film. However, Jessie still remained in the film.
  • Napoleon still finds the orphaned puppies in the house when the animals decide to look around, but it is unknown who their parents were. Though one scene shows a dog, that looked similar to Jessie, dead, implying that Jessie was the mother of the puppies. It is not known whether Bluebell was the father of the puppies as he was not shown or mentioned.
  • In the film, Napoleon's dogs managed to catch up to Snowball and kill him (off camera). This does not happen in the book.
  • When Snowball is chased out of the farm by Napoleon's dogs, it is implied that they killed him offscreen, while in the book, they just chase him away.
  • While the other farmers try to retake the farm again in the film, Jones takes some dynamite to the windmill and blows it up. In the book, the windmill gets destroyed twice: once by a storm, and once by the other farmers during the second attempt to retake the farm.
  • In the film, Jones' fate after he destroyed the windmill is unknown. In the book, he dies in an alcoholics' home in another part of the country.
  • In the book, when Boxer is being taken to the slaughter, it is Clover who tries to save him. In the film, it is Benjamin who does it.
  • At the end of the book, the pigs invite the other farmers for a party. In the film, only pigs from neighbouring farms are invited.
  • In the book, the animals realize that the pigs have become like the humans after a game of cards ends up in an argument. In the film, it is Benjamin the donkey who realizes this, when he witnesses Napoleon instructing the invited pigs on how to run their farms. He even briefly has a hallucination of them taking on the likeness of Mr. Jones.
  • In the film, Benjamin unites the animals and they storm the farmhouse, managing to kill Napoleon and overthrowing the pigs in the process. This never happens in the book.

Comic strip adaptation[edit]

In 1954 Harold Whitaker, one of the film's animators, adapted the film into a comic strip published in various British regional newspapers.[21]

In popular culture[edit]

The band The Clash used an image from the film on their 45-RPM single "English Civil War".[22] The virtual band Gorillaz used footage from the film behind Benjamin Clementine in an animated elevator in the 2017 music video single "Hallelujah Money".

Home media[edit]

Animal Farm was released on Super 8 film in the 1970s, and received several home video releases in the UK and in America. American VHS releases were produced by Media Home Entertainment, Vestron Video, Avid Video, Wham! USA Entertainment, and Burbank Video. Universal Pictures Home Entertainment released the film on DVD in the UK in 2003. In 2004, Home Vision Entertainment (HVE) released a 'Special Edition' DVD of the movie in the United States, including a documentary hosted by Tony Robinson.[23]

Coincidentally with HVE's release, Digiview Productions, which had assumed the movie was in the public domain, released it on DVD. However, the estate of Halas & Batchelor, who kept the copyright to the movie, ended up filing a lawsuit against Digiview Productions, and they won the lawsuit, resulting in Digiview filing for bankruptcy; it was later revived as Digiview Entertainment. In 2014, a 60th-anniversary Blu-Ray was released in the UK by Network Distributing.[24] There are currently no plans to release a Blu-Ray of the film in the United States.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Animal Farm World". Retrieved 23 September 2017.
  2. ^
  3. ^ Animal Farm (1955)
  4. ^ John Reed (12 April 2013). "Animal Farm Timeline". The Paris Review. Retrieved 28 September 2016. Animal Farm ... premieres in New York City at the chic Paris Theatre, December 29, 1954.
  5. ^ "Detail view of Movies Page". Retrieved 23 September 2017.
  6. ^ a b "'Animal Farm' Took 15 Years To Recoup its $350,000 Cost". Variety. 9 January 1974. p. 77.
  7. ^ a b Orwell Subverted, Daniel Leab, p.11
  8. ^ a b Sibley, Brian. Audio commentary on UK 2003 'Special Edition' DVD release of Animal Farm
  9. ^ Senn, Samantha (2015). "All Propaganda is Dangerous, but Some are More Dangerous than Others: George Orwell and the Use of Literature as Propaganda". Journal of Strategic Security. University of South Florida Board of Trustees. 8 (3): 151. doi:10.5038/1944-0472.8.3S.1483. JSTOR 26465253 – via JSTOR.
  10. ^ Water for Firefighting and Handling Ships, two feature-length wartime training films, were produced earlier, but did not receive a formal cinema release
  11. ^ Senn, Samantha (2015). "All Propaganda is Dangerous, but Some are More Dangerous than Others: George Orwell and the Use of Literature as Propaganda". Journal of Strategic Security. 8 (3): 151. doi:10.5038/1944-0472.8.3S.1483. JSTOR 26465253 – via JSTOR.
  12. ^ Rodden, John (September 1991). "Reputation, Canon-Formation, Pedagogy: George Orwell in the Classroom". College English. 53 (5): 505. doi:10.2307/377460. JSTOR 377460 – via JSTOR.
  13. ^ Shaw, Tony (October 2003). "Some Writers are More Equal than Others: George Orwell, the State and Cold War Privilege". Cold War History. 4 (1): 145. doi:10.1080/14682740312331391774. S2CID 153507299 – via Research Gate.
  14. ^ Senn, Samantha (2015). "All Propaganda is Dangerous, but Some are More Dangerous than Others: George Orwell and the Use of Literature as Propaganda". Journal of Strategic Security. 8 (3): 149–161. doi:10.5038/1944-0472.8.3S.1483. ISSN 1944-0464. JSTOR 26465253.
  15. ^ Maurice Denham - IMDb
  16. ^ Karl Cohen (7 March 2003). "The cartoon that came in from the cold | Culture". The Guardian. London.
  17. ^ "Animal Farm trailer". Youtube.
  18. ^ Lejeune, C. A. "At the films: Pig Business", The Observer, January 1955.
  19. ^ a b Author unknown, "Animal Farm on the screen", The Manchester Guardian, 1955.
  20. ^ "Tomatometer on Animal Farm". Retrieved 23 September 2017.
  21. ^ "Harold Whitaker". Retrieved 23 September 2017.
  22. ^ "An Ezine for record collectors and enthusiasts". Endless Groove. Archived from the original on 24 September 2015. The band Pink Floyd partially based their album animals off the book and used footage from the 1954 film for several music videos from the album.
  23. ^
  24. ^ "Animal Farm".

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