Cast & Crew
One spring, at Manor Farm in the English countryside, the abused animals belonging to Mr. Jones, a sadistic drunkard, hold a meeting to discuss the appalling conditions on the farm. Old Major, the prize boar hog, leads the gathering, which is attended by all the animals, including Boxer the horse and his best friend, Benjamin the donkey. Snowball, Napoleon and the other pigs sit in the front row as Old Major tells the group of his fury over their exploitation and incites them to overthrow Jones in order to receive their fair share of Manor Farm's riches. Old Major then exhorts his friends to remember that once they have gotten rid of Jones, they must treat each other as equals or else they will be perpetuating Jones's vices. At the height of the animals' cheering, Old Major dies, and they voice their distress. The next morning, the animals awaken to find that Jones is still passed out and has not opened the locked barn to feed them. Infuriated, the animals break down the barn doors and stuff themselves with the food that Jones has kept hidden. After the noise awakens Jones, he threatens them with a whip and the animals retreat, but then band together and chase him away. Jones then gathers his friends from the local pub and returns to the farm, and during the ensuing battle, the animals disperse the men. There are some loses among the animals, however, and while the others tend to their fallen comrades, the sly, ambitious Napoleon finds a motherless litter of puppies. Napoleon hides the puppies, while the other animals make a bonfire out of harnesses, chains, whips and other items belonging to Jones. The animals make a tentative exploration of Jones's home but decide that the building is not for them, and soon, Snowball takes charge and begins organizing a new society for them, which he dubs "Animal Farm." The laws of Animal Farm, such as "No Animal Shall Sleep in a Bed," "No Animal Shall Kill Another Animal" and "All Animals Are Equal," are prominently painted on the barn, and soon the animals are cooperating to run the farm smoothly. As the summer passes, the animals are delighted by their success, especially Napoleon and his toady, Fat Pig Squealer, although Jones grows more glum as he passes his days in the pub. After the harvest is brought in, the animals begin to think of their future and of spreading the news of their venture to other farms. In situations where the animals are content, news of the uprising is shunned, but wherever beasts are being abused, they eagerly listen to the winged messengers' descriptions of Animal Farm. Snowball then tries to educate the animals, but some, like Benjamin, prefer to sleep during their lessons, and so Snowball moves on to solving the problem of generating power on the farm. Meanwhile, Napoleon continues his secret training of the pups, who have grown into powerful dogs that obey only him. In January, the animals suffer bitterly from the cold, and Snowball calls them together to discuss his new plan. As he promises electricity and warmth for all, he is loudly heckled by Napoleon, who calls in the dogs to chase Snowball into the woods and kill him. Napoleon immediately steps up to take control of the farm, and presents Snowball's idea of building a power-generating windmill as his own. Although they are leery at first, the animals accept Napoleon when he tells them that Snowball was a traitor attempting to bring back Jones. Soon, work on the windmill begins, and while the pigs live a leisurely life of "supervising," the other animals conduct the back-breaking labor. The hardest workers are Boxer and Benjamin, who continue long after the others have retired. Some of the animals grow disturbed upon learning that Napoleon sleeps in Jones's bed, but upon looking at the barn, find that the law prohibiting sleeping in a human's bed now reads, "No Animal Shall Sleep in a Bed with Sheets." Meanwhile, at the pub, wily trader Whimper overhears Jones and other disgruntled farmers muttering that the animals cannot thrive without outside help, and goes to Animal Farm. There, Whimper trades the greedy Napoleon some jam for the chickens' eggs, and when the irate chickens attempt to rebel, the dogs kill the farm's cat, to prove their power to the chickens. At a hearing, Napoleon rails against traitors who seek to bring back Jones, and a few animals reluctantly come forward to admit their guilt. The "guilty" animals are slaughtered by the dogs, and soon the barn bears another modified law: "No Animal Shall Kill Another Animal Without Cause." When Jones's neighbors discover how rich Whimper has grown through his trade with Animal Farm, they determine to subjugate the animals again and stage a raid on the farm. The animals fight fiercely and repel their attackers, although Boxer is wounded, and the drunken Jones succeeds in dynamiting the windmill. Despite his injury, Boxer leads Benjamin and the others in rebuilding the windmill, but while their rations grow scarcer, the pigs grow fatter and fatter. One night, Boxer is gravely wounded when a huge rock falls on him. Benjamin tends to his friend and the animals assume that Boxer will enjoy a well-deserved retirement, but are horrified when Napoleon sells him to Whimper's glue factory. After Boxer is loaded onto Whimper's truck, Benjamin races after him, braying at his friend, but cannot run fast enough to keep up. With Boxer gone, the animals cease to question the orders of the pigs, who begin consuming alcohol and acting more human. The seasons pass, and the pigs, who now wear human clothing, treat the other animals as slaves and establish other "pig-run enterprises" throughout the country. One day, an ancient and weary Benjamin sees a delegation of pigs arrive to celebrate their successes, and after they retire to the house, he alerts the animals to the new and sole law on the barn, which reads, "All Animals Are Equal but Some Animals Are More Equal than Others." News of the change spreads quickly to other farms, and the indignant animals, realizing that they must again revolt, join together to storm the Jones's house. With Benjamin in the lead, the animals trample the pigs and hope that someday their world will be happy again.
S. G. Griffiths
John F. Reed
Louis De Rochemont
Animal Farm - ANIMAL FARM - The 1954 Animated Version on DVD
Before Watership Down, Where the Wind Blows, and The Plague Dogs sent hordes of young animation fans scurrying for cover, Animal Farm broke ground as a chilling break with the established formulas of Walt Disney and his disciples; while the anthropomorphized animals are still here, their adventures are anything but warm and cuddly. Visually the bulk of the film has a sunny, flat veneer little different from the much later Hanna-Barbera version of Charlotte's Web, but the content and context make this an entirely different beast. All of the animals (voiced by Hammer vet Maurice Denham) suffer mightily in the name of happiness, with the nicest characters being the most passive and likely to be injured during the process of political upheaval. Of course it's all an allegory, but in true Orwell fashion, it's all close enough to real human nature to cut more deeply than you'd imagine.
As most fans of the book know, the climate of 1954 wouldn't allow Orwell's original pessimistic ending to reach the screen (a common fate of numerous literary adaptations during the '50s, not to mention in later years); the ultimate message gets seriously muddled in the process, but if you can overlook the Bad Seed-style tinkering during the last few minutes, the film has plenty to offer. A snapshot of Cold War politics filtered through innocuous, family-friendly tropes, Animal Farm seems to drift in and out of relevance depending on the political climate; with a world in turmoil every few hours, the story seems even more universal as a study of dominance and manipulation rather than a strict interpretation of the failings of Communist Russia.
Home Vision's disc conspicuously touts the restoration performed on this full-frame feature, and the results look pleasing overall. Certainly better than fuzzy versions seen earlier on TV and video, the elements are mostly clean and feature robust colors. Brian Sibley, a well-versed animation historian, provides a very useful commentary track in which he goes over the film and source novel in great detail with loads of trivia peppered throughout. Also included are a selection of storyboards for seven sequences, a 1995 "Down on Animal Farm" featurette (running half an hour and hosted by Tony Robinson) that covers the film's funding background and the stories of its animators, and solid liner notes by Karl Cohen.
For more information about Animal Farm, visit Home Vision Entertainment. To order Animal Farm, go to TCM Shopping.
by Nathaniel Thompson
Animal Farm - ANIMAL FARM - The 1954 Animated Version on DVD
No animal shall drink alcohol. No animal shall sleep in a bed. Four legs good, two legs bad.- Snowball
Wings count as legs.- Squealer
Four legs good, two legs bad. Four legs good, two legs bad.- Group of sheep
No animal shall kill another animal. All animals are equal.- Snowball
First British feature-length animated film.
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.
The film's title cards read, "Louis de Rochemont presents A Halas and Batchelor Production based on George Orwell's Memorable Fable." Animal Farm, which took three years to complete, was the first feature-length animated film produced in England. In early November 1951, Variety reported that the joint American-English venture was being financed by "frozen pounds" earned by de Rochemont's 1949 production Lost Boundaries (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50). The article also noted: "Work on [the] project was begun last March when Orwell's widow...gave an option to de Rochemont with proviso that she would have okay on script to assure preservation of spirit and intent of Orwell's social satire."
According to an October 1952 Los Angeles Daily News article, de Rochemont decided to work with the husband-and-wife team of John Halas and Joy Batchelor because he "was impressed by some of the [animated] documentary films" they had produced. A November 1952 New York Times article reported that the animation work was being completed in London, while the camera work was done in Gloucestershire, and that Halas and Batchelor's production team was supplemented with technicians laid off from the recently disbanded cartoon studio established by J. Arthur Rank. The article also noted that Halas was responsible for the character sketches, while Batchelor supplied the "screen adaptation of the characters to the situation." Animation director John F. Reed, the only American on the team, had previously worked for the Walt Disney Studios.
Although a April 21, 1954 Variety news item speculated that National Screen Service would be distributing the picture in the United States, as it had de Rochement's production Martin Luther (see below), when Animal Farm opened in New York on December 29, 1954, it did not yet have a distributor. On December 31, 1954, Hollywood Reporter announced that Distributors Corp. of America had acquired the United States and Canadian distribution rights to Animal Farm.
The film, which was oriented toward adult audiences rather than children, received generally good reviews in both the U.S. and England. The Motion Picture Herald Prod Digest reviewer stated that Animal Farm was "a daring innovation," and that it was "the first feature cartoon to utilize an adult theme and it does so with intelligence, wit and understanding." The review also reported that Halas and Batchelor "previously had made hundreds of cartoons for the British Government and as entertainment shorts." New York Times critic Bosley Crowther pronounced the film "technically first-rate" but warned: "Don't make the mistake of thinking it is for little children, just because it is a cartoon." Time, which called Animal Farm "an important film, and intensely interesting," reported that it was produced by a team of 100 artists and that the final print consisted of "more than 300,000 colored drawings."
According to a March 1985 Back Stage article, the picture "was made on a modest budget for a feature, and it has made of $4,000,000 in rentals since." In July 1998, a restored version of the picture, supervised by Vivienne Halas, the daughter of Halas and Batchelor, was released in England. According to a July 1998 The Times article, the frame-by-frame restoration cost £25,000. Nick Cohen, a columnist for the British paper The Observer, alleged in April 1998 that production of the picture "was controlled by the American CIA and its front organisations. They changed its ending to ensure that Cold War propaganda was given to viewers." To support his thesis, Cohen noted that the book ends with a party enjoyed by both farmers and pigs, with the other animals being unable to tell the difference between the humans (the capitalists) and the pigs (the Communists). Cohen also stated that Orwell's widow originally sold the rights to the famed book to two Americans who "worked for the Office of Policy Coordination, which was paid for and staffed by the CIA," and that a January 1952 script was examined by "the American secret services" for "its propaganda value." No other modern sources supporting Cohen's premises have been found, however.
In 1999, Turner Network Television broadcast another version of Orwell's novel, featuring live and computer-generated animals. The television movie was directed by John Stephenson II, with a teleplay by Alan Janes and Martyn Burke, and featured the voices of Kelsey Grammer, Ian Holm, Paul Scofield and Patrick Stewart.