ⓘ Animal Farm (1954 film)


ⓘ Animal Farm (1954 film)

Animal Farm is a 1954 British-American animated drama film directed by John Halas and Joy Batchelor. It was produced by Halas and Batchelor, based on the novel of the same name by George Orwell. It was the first British animated feature.

The US CIA paid for the filming, part of the American cultural offensive during the Cold War, and influenced the presentation of Orwells ideas. The CIA initially funded Louis de Rochemont to begin work on a film version of Orwells work, and he hired Halas & Batchelor, an animation firm in London that had made propaganda films for the British government.

Maurice Denham provided the voice for all the animals in the film.


1. Plot

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, "Beasts of England", 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 farmers 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, an antagonistic Berkshire boar named Napoleon, takes interest in the abandoned house. He finds a litter of puppies left motherless and begins to raise them in private.

The Commandments of Animalism are written on a wall of the barn to illustrate their communitys 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 films 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 chase down Snowball and kill him. Afterwards, Napoleon declares that Snowball is a traitor and makes himself the new leader, along with Squealer as his propagandist, and makes changes. Meetings will no longer be held, but instead, he will make the decisions. 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 beds", is changed to "No animal shall sleep in beds with sheets ", when the pigs are discovered to have been sleeping in the old farmhouse. Before long, Napoleons 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 murdered 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", stating 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 Whympers 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. 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 Whympers glue factory. Afterwards, a supply of alcohol is secretly delivered. At the same time, Squealer delivers a phony speech, claiming to have been near Boxers side at his deathbed, and states that his last words were to glorify Napoleon. The upset animals see through the propaganda and recognize how tyrannical Napoleon has become, but are driven away by the snarling dogs before anything can be done. That night, the pigs toast to Boxers 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 Snowball, Boxer, and their compatriots. 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 animals trample Napoleon and the pigs to death before reclaiming the farm, with Benjamin standing in grim triumph at their head.


2. Production

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.

The "financial backers" influenced the development of the film: the altered ending, and that the message should be that "Stalins regime is not only as bad as Jones, but worse and more sadistic," and Napoleon "not only as bad as Jones but vastly worse". And the "investors" were greatly concerned that Snowball the Trotsky figure was presented too sympathetically in early script treatments, and that Batchelors script implied Snowball was "intelligent, dynamic, courageous". This implication could not be permitted. A memo declared that Snowball must be presented as a "fanatic intellectual whose plans if carried through would have led to disaster no less complete than under Napoleon". De Rochemont accepted this suggestion.

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.


3. Release

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.

Scenes from Animal Farm, along with the 1954 TV program Nineteen Eighty-Four, were featured in "The Two Winstons", the final episode of Simon Schamas program A History of Britain.


4. Reception

Film critic C. A. Lejeune wrote at the time: "I salute Animal Farm as a fine piece of work… have made a film for the eye, ear, heart and mind". Matyas Seibers score and Maurice Denhams 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". The movie holds a 64% score at Rotten Tomatoes based on 11 critic reviews.

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".

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


5. Differences between the movie and the book

  • In the movie, Benjamin unites the animals and they storm the farmhouse, managing to kill Napoleon and overthrowing the pigs in the progress. This never happens in the book.
  • 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 movie.
  • In the movie, Old Major dies in front of the animals while they were singing Beasts of England, while in the book, he dies a few days later and was buried.
  • At the end of the book, the pigs invite the other farmers for a party. In the movie, only pigs from neighbouring farms are invited.
  • In the book, Old Major teaches the animals the song Beasts of England, which has lyrics. Even though the animals do sing in the movie, there are no lyrics and it is just animal noises.
  • In the movie, Jones is killed when he remains in the windmill when it gets blown up - possibly due to the fact that he was drunk. In the book, he dies in an alcoholics home in another part of the country.
  • When Snowball is chased out of the farm by Napoleons dogs, it is implied that they killed him offscreen, while in the book, they just chase him away.
  • The animals rebellion takes place in the morning in the movie, while it takes place in midday in the book.
  • Jones tries to retake the farm, with the help of the other farmers, soon after being overthrown in the movie.
  • While the other farmers try to retake the farm again in the movie, 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 book, the animals realise that the pigs have become like the humans after a game of cards ends up in an argument. In the movie, it is Benjamin the donkey who realises this, when he witnesses Napoleon instructing the invited pigs on how to run their farms.
  • In the movie, Snowball sends pigeons to spread the news of the animals revolution all across the country. In the book, however, Snowball wants to do it but Napoleon stops him.
  • Napoleon still finds the orphaned puppies in the house when the animals decide to look around, but it is unknown who their parents were.
  • In the book, Jones is married and has helpers on his farm, while in the movie, Jones is not married and is the only human on the farm.


6. In popular culture

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


7. Home media

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.

Coincidentally with HVEs 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. There are currently no plans to release a Blu-Ray of the film in the United States.