58 in x of animated feature film history
Release: Dec. 29th, 1954
Director: John Halas, Joy Batchelor
The animals are tired of being under the cruel hand of Farmer Jones (Czar Nicholas II), so Old Major (Karl Marx), a pig, leads a meeting declaring that man is their enemy. But when Major dies, the animals lead a successful revolt against Farmer Jones, and the animals rename Manor Farm ‘Animal Farm’ and have their own laws. Snowball (Leon Trotsky) becomes the first president, but Napoleon (Joseph Stalin) ousts him, and Napoleon and his accomplice, Squealer (propagandist) break countless rules. And the rules are changed, showing that all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others. The film deviates from its source material by having the animals rise up and destroy Napoleon at the end of the film.
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 CIA to further the creation of anti-communist art. The CIA initially funded Louis de Rochemont to begin work on a film version of Orwell’s work and he hired Halas & Batchelor, an animation firm in London that had made propaganda films for the British government. Halas and Batchelor were awarded the contract to make the feature in November 1951 and it was completed in April 1954. The production employed about 80 animators.
The ’financial backers’ influenced the development of the film, the altered ending, and a message that, ‘Stalin’s regime is not only as bad as Jones’s, but worse and more cynical’, and Napoleon ‘not only as bad as JONES but vastly worse.’ The ‘investors’ were greatly concerned that Snowball (the Trotsky figure) was presented too sympathetically in early script treatments. 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.’
To coincide with the film’s release, a comic strip version was serialized in newspapers, drawn by Harold Whitaker, one of the animators.
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’. Many parents were alarmed at the bleakness of the film, having taken their children thinking it was a film along the lines of a Disney cartoon. 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.’
Maurice Denham provided the voice talent for all the animals in the film.
Animal Farm is also the first ever animated film to contain animated blood.”
Animal Farm is available on YouTube.