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||IMDB Rating: 7.2/10 from 9,285 votes
||Release: 11 May 1956 (Netherlands) /
||Genre: Animation, Drama
||Director: Joy Batchelor,
||Stars: Gordon Heath, Maurice Denham
||Synopsis: Britain's second animated feature, which, despite the title and Disney-esque animal animation, is in fact a no-holds-barred adaptation of George Orwell's classic satire on Stalinism, with the animals taking over their farm by means of a revolutionary coup, but then discovering that although all animals are supposed to be equal, some are more equal than others... Written by Michael Brooke <[email protected]>
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I don't understand why critics in recent years have never warmed to "Animal
Farm". They believe it's "disappointingly flat" (Leslie Halliwell) or "an
illustrated study aid" (Time Out). I remember when I first saw this film a
quarter of a century ago. I found the betrayal of Boxer, the horse,
horrifying. The description, "an intellectual film, not an emotional one"
(Time Out), cannot be reconciled with my own recollections. Are British
critics simply holding a British film of a British novel up to standards
they would not apply to a non-British production? The film already contains
evidence of a Disney influence, from adorable ducklings to a musical score
with echoes of Prokofieff's "Peter and the Wolf", and an expiating ending
that's not in the book. Any more of that sort of thing and critics would
have accused the film of losing all of the book's bite.
George Orwell wrote a fable about revolution betrayed, and laced it
liberally with references to the Russian Revolution. Much of this dimension
is still visible in the film. A wise pig, Old Major, proclaims the
revolution before dying. Old Major is sort of a Marx figure, although, to
me, he seems to be drawn to look like Churchill. Proclamation made, nothing
happens. However Farmer Jones is drunk and the animals don't get their feed.
The Tsar's mismanagement produced his revolution as well. Russian parallels
continue. Counter-revolutionary farmers (capitalist states) attack Animal
Farm but fail. One pig, Snowball (Trotsky), tries to spread revolution to
other farms (world revolution), but is murdered by his associate, Napoleon
(Stalin), who prefers to consolidate his power at home. The film also has
Five Year Plans, industrialization programmes, forcible collectivization,
showtrials with quick executions afterwards, and historical
But I saw this film perhaps three times long before I understood anything
much about the political parallels. I liked it as much then if not more so.
Knowledge of that side does tend to turn the film into an intellectual
experience, but viewers who have no prior exposure to the historical facts
receive the raw emotional jolt which more politically astute critics
maintain the film lacks.
Regardless of whether you know a lot about Russia and her Revolution, or
nothing at all, Britain's first animated feature is a film with a strong
story which adults and mature kids should find absorbing, maybe even
"devastating", as The New York Times once claimed back in the days when
Stalin was still lying warm in his grave, if not in anyone's
As for a rating on "Animal Farm", the sheep say, "Four stars good, two stars
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, Maurice Denham
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