Animal Farm (1954)

"Very Good"

Animal Farm (1954) Review


George Orwell's classic fable about repression, revolution, and corruption became a quirky animated mini-classic in 1954, and only recently has the truth about its production become known.

Thank Home Vision Entertainment for bringing the movie back into light and for telling its story -- it's actually more interesting than the movie itself.

The tale goes that in 1954, the CIA was looking for ways to spread anti-Communist propaganda to do its part to fight the Cold War. Animal Farm seemed like a likely property -- its tale of revolt offered a lot of promise for those wanting to encourage revolution... even if the ending didn't quite mesh up with what the spooks were looking for. Never mind: That could be changed. The CIA approached Orwell's widow and finagled the rights (purportedly by granting her a meeting with her idol, Clark Gable). The agency then recruited an animator, who ultimately (and strangely) turned out Britain's first animated feature ever.

The result is Animal Farm, a good-but-not-great attempt at visualizing the classic story of animal revolt on an oppressive farm. For those unfamiliar with it, the story goes as follows: Humans are cruel to the animals on Manor Farm, so they revolt and send the humans packing. The animals take over the farm, with the pigs seizing a leadership role, albeit one ostensibly based on equal rights and freedom. But before long, the pigs realize the humans had it pretty good, and against their own edicts they begin sleeping in human beds and carrying out death sentences on those who cause problems. Their publicly posted laws of Animal Farm subtly change overnight, each time being tweaked just so in order to fit in with the whims of the pigs.

In the book, this all culminates in a war between the rest of the animals and the pigs, who end up joining with the humans, their former adversaries. In the film, it's everyone vs. pigs, and the humans are left out in the cold. The idea, of course, is that the pigs represent the communists of the USSR, who would never seek aid from the Russian royalty they displaced.

Despite its liberties with the material, some crude animation, and the Disneyfication of some of its scenes (namely those involving baby animals causing cute little problems at random intervals), Animal Farm is an enjoyable and instructive film, improved thanks to Orwell's awesome storytelling ability. The CIA meddling, ultimately, matters little. Animal Farm is as interesting on screen as it is behind the veil.



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