Distributed By: Scott Entertainment
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
Animal Farm by George Orwell has always been one of my favorite books. Written in 1945, Orwell used animals to illustrate the rise and corruption of Soviet Union and its Communist policies before and during Stalin's reign. A social and political statement against Stalinism, the book was met with some skepticism and found itself banned in some circles. Despite these set-backs, Animal Farm still represents one of the best ways to inform the public as to what occurred in Russia at the time of the revolution and why Stalinism ultimately failed. I've read the novel a number of times and have always found it to be enjoyable and educational.
I had never known that the book had been adapted to film twice, but once I found out about these adaptations, I decided to check them out. Deciding against the 1999 live action film, I chose to view the British animated feature from 1954 narrated by Gordon Heath and featuring Maurice Denham as the voice of each speaking character in the film.
The story takes place on the once prosperous Manor Farm, which has now fallen under hard times thanks to the mismanagement of the aggressive alcoholic Mr. Jones. Prior to his death, an elderly, charismatic prize hog named Old Major unites the animals, telling them that they deserve better than the tyrannical reign they have lived under all these years. He encourages them to rise up and sever the bonds forced upon them by humans and warns them that once they have earned their freedom, they must never adapt the vices of humans, lest they become like the very oppressors they seek to escape.
After his death, fueled by the abusive behavior of Mr. Jones, the animals of Manor Farm rise up. Led by Snowball, an equally charismatic and intelligent pig, the animals stage a coup, driving Mr. Jones from his farm and taking over management of the place. The going is rough, but the animals work together to ensure the prosperity of the farm and all who live there. Snowball attempts to educate the animals and a set of seven rules are posted to ensure that the animals will live together in peace and tranquility and, above all, to remind them what they had liberated themselves from.
The pigs, by virtue of their intelligence, are elevated to a somewhat higher position and one pig in particular, Napoleon, decides that this new Animal Farm should be run by him instead of the popular Snowball. He steals Snowball's idea for bringing electricity to the farm and has Snowball chased off of the farm by his trusty army of dogs that he has raised since puppyhood. Then he puts the animals to work building Snowball's windmill.
As the movie progresses, the pigs become more and more powerful and the original laws of the community are changed to suit their needs. Any animal who expresses concern or attempts to refute anything set forth by the pigs are set upon by Napoleon's dogs. While the pigs eat heartily and enjoy every luxury, the rest of the animals on the farm put in long work hours and are fed sparingly. It would seem that the very thing the animals had risen up against has returned to the farm and the pigs are nothing better than the original oppressors run off of the farm. Can the animals free themselves from the pigs' tyranny or are they doomed to repeat history again and again, never learning from the mistakes of the past?
At a little over an hour long, this animated version of Animal Farm is a terrific adaptation of the George Orwell novel. It doesn't stray too much from the original tale and presents a new medium through which to teach the idea that even the most well-meaning revolution/government can be corrupted by those seeking power. The story reminds us that education is key to preventing our destruction by repeating the mistakes of our forefathers. What better way to instruct our children in this important lesson than in an animated, and somewhat tamed down, version of Animal Farm.
Of course, the animation leaves a bit to be desired - after all, this movie was made in the early 1950s and animation in that era was far less advanced than animation today. Despite that, the movie is enjoyable and gets the point across quite well. The 1954 animated version of Animal Farm excels as both an entertaining experience and teaching tool. I thoroughly enjoyed watching the film all these years later and can't wait to show it to my friends who have read the book. I know they'll love it just as much as I did.