Britain's second animated feature, which, despite the title and Disney-esque animal animation, is in fact a no-holds-barred adaptation of George Orwell's classic satire on Stalinism, with the animals taking over their farm by means of a revolutionary coup, but then discovering that although all animals are supposed to be equal, some are more equal than others... Written by
Michael Brooke <email@example.com>
Producer Louis De Rochemont--best known for his "March of Time" newsreel series--approached the team of John Halas and Joy Batchelor with a view to producing the first ever-animated feature aimed specifically at adults. The directors leaped at the chance. See more »
When Old Jones grabs the dynamite out of the box, he has three sticks in each hand, but when he puts his hands together a seventh stick appears from nowhere. Then, when he lights the fuse, there are twelve sticks in the pile. See more »
[The laws of Animal Farm are being read]
No animal shall drink alcohol. No animal shall sleep in a bed. Four legs good, two legs bad.
[The chickens are very annoyed at this rule]
Wings count as legs.
[The chickens realize that Squealer is right]
Group of sheep:
Four legs good, two legs bad. Four legs good, two legs bad.
[continuing the reading of the laws]
No animal shall kill another animal. All animals are equal.
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I don't understand why critics in recent years have never warmed to "Animal Farm". They believe it's "disappointingly flat" (Leslie Halliwell) or "an illustrated study aid" (Time Out). I remember when I first saw this film a quarter of a century ago. I found the betrayal of Boxer, the horse, horrifying. The description, "an intellectual film, not an emotional one" (Time Out), cannot be reconciled with my own recollections. Are British critics simply holding a British film of a British novel up to standards they would not apply to a non-British production? The film already contains evidence of a Disney influence, from adorable ducklings to a musical score with echoes of Prokofieff's "Peter and the Wolf", and an expiating ending that's not in the book. Any more of that sort of thing and critics would have accused the film of losing all of the book's bite.
George Orwell wrote a fable about revolution betrayed, and laced it liberally with references to the Russian Revolution. Much of this dimension is still visible in the film. A wise pig, Old Major, proclaims the revolution before dying. Old Major is sort of a Marx figure, although, to me, he seems to be drawn to look like Churchill. Proclamation made, nothing happens. However Farmer Jones is drunk and the animals don't get their feed. The Tsar's mismanagement produced his revolution as well. Russian parallels continue. Counter-revolutionary farmers (capitalist states) attack Animal Farm but fail. One pig, Snowball (Trotsky), tries to spread revolution to other farms (world revolution), but is murdered by his associate, Napoleon (Stalin), who prefers to consolidate his power at home. The film also has Five Year Plans, industrialization programmes, forcible collectivization, showtrials with quick executions afterwards, and historical revisionism.
But I saw this film perhaps three times long before I understood anything much about the political parallels. I liked it as much then if not more so. Knowledge of that side does tend to turn the film into an intellectual experience, but viewers who have no prior exposure to the historical facts receive the raw emotional jolt which more politically astute critics maintain the film lacks.
Regardless of whether you know a lot about Russia and her Revolution, or nothing at all, Britain's first animated feature is a film with a strong story which adults and mature kids should find absorbing, maybe even "devastating", as The New York Times once claimed back in the days when Stalin was still lying warm in his grave, if not in anyone's heart.
As for a rating on "Animal Farm", the sheep say, "Four stars good, two stars b-a-a-a-d!"
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