Animal Farm (1954)


Animal Farm – 1954

Directors – Joy Bachelor, and John Halas

Starring – Gordon Heath, and Maurice Denham

Based on the novel by George Orwell, Animal Farm, is a not so thinly veiled allegory for Russia’s Communist Revolution.  The major players in history (Stalin, Trotsky, Czar Nicholas II, etc.), are each represented by a different character here.  The difference is that each of the main characters is an animal.  A farm animal in fact.  The animals, mistreated by the drunkard, self-absorbed farmer, rebel and drive the humans out re-naming the farm Animal Farm.  The animals set up a series of rules, or commandments that must never be broken, but to the leadership and power structure, these soon become obstacles that inevitably are trampled.

If you’ve had even a brief introduction to the history of the last 50 or so years, you probably have a decent idea where this is all going.  The problem for the movie, in my humble opinion, comes with the fact that the movie is animated.  It removes some of the credibility and some of the impact of the characters and their motivations.  In place of a fiery, tyrant with dictatorial ambitions, we get a smirking, cartoon villain with no more dimensionality than the description implies.  Each character seemed a little over-simplified, a feeling that is enhanced by the animation, and the abbreviated nature of the film as opposed to say…the book.

I suppose that I’ve railed on the style of the film a bit more than it deserves.  One very obvious benefit, was the fact that the film was able to be made because of it.  In 1954, there was no computer generated anything, no animatronic puppetry, and no realistic, cost-effective way of using real animals.  The only alternative left was to use hand drawn, painted, cell animation.  This style of animation, while perhaps not conducive to the story that is being told, has it’s own artistry and beauty.  The animated movies of today are all 3D, computer-generated, and all very similar to one another.  And while a lot of these films are fine films in their own rights, ground-breaking, creative, and well told, we’ve lost something with the passing of the age of 2D animated movies.  If only for that reason, I can forgive Animal Farm it’s short comings.

Through my research, after watching the film, I found that there was a newer straight-to-video version of Orwell’s classic, one made with CG enhanced, live action animals.  I haven’t seen it, but I have to admit, I’m a bit skeptical.  The more I think about it, the more I believe that Animal Farm (the 1954 version), is a sort of document of history.  The IQ of animated films of today rarely reaches the heights of something like Animal Farm, so the very fact that something like it got made at all, at any point, is a good thing.

3 thoughts on “Animal Farm (1954)

  1. Pingback: 1001 Movies – The Complete List « 1001 Movies I Must Comment On Before I Die!

  2. I have yet to see this one, but I have seen the other that you reference. It wasn’t straight to video, it was actually produced and distributed on TNT. I was amazed by the ability of the Henson Creatureshop to make the talking animals credible for the story. Having viewed it just a few month after a rereading of the book, I found it to be quite faithful to Orwell’s material.

    Unforunately, the MUST SEE version will have to measure up in comparison to that TNT version for me.

    I am a bit concerned by the critic quote from the N. Y. Daily News “You’ll have the laugh of your life”. I don’t remember ever laughing while reading the book or watching the TNT film. Even if I did, they did not raise the story to the ranks of comedy.

    You are on a roll.

  3. Yeah, I don’t remember laughing at all during this version either, and also thinking the quote was strange, but otherwise I think it’s a fantastic poster. It is very true to the feel of the material.

    I’ll definitely have to check out the newer version.

    Thank you, my friend, for the kind words!

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