Animal Farm was a 1945 novel written by British author George Orwell. The book has become one of his most famous works. The story is a metaphor for the Russian revolution, and has been celebrated as one of the best English language books ever written. In 1954, John Halas and Joy Batchelor created an animated film adaptation which became known as the first British animated film ever made, even though this isn’t true. The first was Handling Ships (also made by Halas and Batchelor, and also doubles as the first work in Technicolor), although Animal Farm certainly is the first British animated film to gain a worldwide release. While Animal Farm has historical significance, does this mean it’s actually any good?
As stated above, the story is a metaphor for the Soviet Union. Mr Jones is an abusive alcoholic farm owner who treats his animals with contempt and neglect. His farm, Manor Farm, is in turmoil and the animals decide to rise up against Mr Jones and throw him out. At the top of this chain of command is Old Major, an old pig who convinces the animals to take over the farm and adopt the principle of Animalism, a concept which says that all animals are equal. After Old Major dies in his sleep, another pig, Napoleon (an allegory for Joseph Stalin), takes over. Soon, the pigs get drunk with power, and start altering the rules of Animalism to fit themselves.
The novel, Animal Farm, is often classed as a children’s book because it has talking animals and the original subtitle was ‘a fairy story.’ The same with this film. It is not a children’s story. It has adult themes, alcohol abuse on several occasions, executions, and violent battles. How this film passed with a U rating is beyond me. While not particularly gory, it’s certainly violent and quite disturbing at times. The animation is very good, with some great colour use and some truly magnificent shots. The animals voices are great as well, with each one really capturing the character, which is made even better by the fact that it’s all done by one person.
Unfortunately, Animal Farm fails in it’s storytelling. I know it’s the 50s, but the storytelling is extremely heavy-handed and that really dilutes the message from the book. It’s like they tried to make it kid-friendly, but then left in the non kid-friendly bits. Do one or the other. The ending is the biggest casualty of this. The ending for the book was bleak, and was not ‘happy’. Without spoilers, it’s changed, but to something so childish and pointless that it becomes a major drawback to the film and ruins the entire movie.
Animal Farm is disappointing. The hand-holding approach to the story really detracts from the experience. While it has great voice acting, and very nice animation, the way they tell the story is just irritating, especially when the story is the best thing about the book it’s based on. It’s certainly much better than the 1999 version, but it’s really okay at best. Voice acting and animation can’t save a film when the storytelling is not up to par. We’ve still yet to wait for a really good Animal Farm movie.