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Animal Farm is a 1954 Britishmarker animated feature by Halas and Batchelor, based on the popular book by George Orwell. It was the first British animated feature released worldwide, though not the first British animated feature ever made. It can, however, be said to be the first British animated feature film on general release.

Plot

The film generally follows the book closely, with the exception of the ending (see the section headed Epilogue).

Following the return of a drunken Mr. Jones to Manor Farm, the pig Old Major calls a meeting of all the animals. He tells them to revolt against Jones and to take control of the farm for themselves, calling for a life of equality and prosperity. Following his death that night, the animals break into the food stores, and drive Jones away. The animals repel a human counterattack, and the two pigs Napoleon and Snowball assume command of the animals, singing a revolutionary song as they burn his harnesses and whips.
Screenshot from Animal Farm (1954 film)
The farm prosper under the animals. Snowball promises the other animals a better future through hard work. Napoleon drives him away from the farm with a bunch of orphaned dogs he raised harshly , denouncing him as a traitor, and presents Snowball's plan for a windmill as his own, taking charge of the farm and deputizes another pig, Squealer.

There is little food available to the other animals, but the pigs have plenty. Boxer the horse and his friend Benjamin the donkey work long hours helping to build the windmill, and later discover the pigs sleeping in beds in Jones' house; the commandment against beds has been changed on the barn accordingly. The farm, under Napoleon's leadership, begins to trade with the outside world, represented by Mr. Whimper. Squealer tells the chickens that their eggs will be taken as trade goods, contradicting what they were told by Old Major. They attempt to revolt but are caught by the pigs. In a scene reminiscent of Stalin's purges, the chickens (along with a sheep and a goose that was seen earlier in the film as a gosling) confess their 'crimes' and are killed by the dogs. The chickens feathers are used to edit one of the commandments.

The revolutionary song is forbidden by Napoleon under the penalty of death, and trade continues. The other farmers become jealous of Whimper and attempt to seize Animal Farm. A battle ensues during which Boxer is shot in the leg, and from which the animals emerge triumphant. In the meantime, however, Jones blows up the windmill (and obviously himself, as he is in a drunken stupor at that time and he isn't seen escaping from the mill and doesn't appear in the rest of the film). During the winter, the animals rebuild the windmill whilst the pigs languish in the farmhouse. Boxer's health deteriorates until one night, when during a storm he collapses. A van, apparently an ambulance, arrives to take Boxer away, but turns out to be from Whimper's glue factory and the pigs receive a case of whiskey in payment, and Squealer delivers a phony speech. The animals realize that the pigs have betrayed the revolution and used it for their own ends, but are stopped from doing anything by the dogs.

Years afterwards, Napoleon's schemes have proven so successful that other farms (or rather, their pig leaders) have joined his cause. During a meeting of the pigs, Benjamin the donkey discovers that they intend to suck the other animals completely dry with even more work and less food. Now at the end of his patience and ready to take his chances with another revolt, Benjamin stirs and leads a multi-farm revolution against Napoleon and his cohorts. The dogs are too drunk to fight, making the revolt easier, and Napoleon and the other pig leaders are defeated while Benjamin and the other animals look over their victory.

Epilogue

In Orwell's original book, the animals simply look on in dismay as they come to realise that the pigs have become nothing better than the human masters of old.

In a stark departure from Orwell's book, the film ends immediately after this iconic image with the animals revolting against the pigs. John Halas, one half of the directing team, later reflected that the film needed the happier ending of counter-revolution, as it rewarded the audience for their emotional investment.

The animation historian Brian Sibley doubts that the team responsible were aware of the source of the funding, which is now accepted to have come from the Central Intelligence Agency, whose concern was to facilitate the creation of anti-communist art.

Critical response

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 Hollywoodmarker studios. The 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 talents have been praised specifically (Denham provided every voice and animal noise in the film). The animation style has been described as "Disney-turned-serious".

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".

To coincide with the film's release, a comic strip version was serialised in newspapers, drawn by Harold Whitaker, one of the animators. Scenes from Animal Farm, along with the 1954 adaptation of Nineteen Eighty-Four, were featured in "The Two Winstons", the final episode of Simon Schama's program A History of Britain.

Rating

When first released, the British Board of Film Classification gave this film a rating certificate of "X" (the same category is now "18") prohibiting anyone under 18 from seeing the film, presumably due to its implied violence and political themes. The film has since been re-classified as "U" (Universal), suitable for all audiences.

CIA Involvement

In 2000, The New York Times printed an article alleging that the CIA had been covertly involved in the purchase of the film rights from Orwell's widow. They subsequently went on to modify the screenplay from the original novel to overemphasize the anti-communist byline of the original story. Such tactics were commonplace throughout the Cold War by all sides.

The CIA's funding and deep editorial involvement in the film is demonstrated and thoroughly examined in Daniel Leab's 2007 book Orwell Subverted: The CIA and the Filming of Animal Farm (2007; Pennsylvania State University Press). The CIA continues to decline Freedom of Information Act requests concerning the film.

DVD release

The 'Special Edition' DVD includes a documentary hosted by television actor and popular historian Tony Robinson.

References



External links




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