Anthony's Film Review
Animal Farm (1954)
An animated tale that very much stays true to George Orwell's classic political fable...
Before I start talking about the animated film Animal Farm, let me introduce you to the original George Orwell classic story it's based on. It is a very clever piece of work, because it delivers a simple story on the surface and a serious political commentary underneath. What you have here is a tale about animals that illustrates a particular situation with humans: the rise of communism. For this film review, I'm going to be summarizing the basic story as well as the political messages that Orwell wanted to get across. This is my focus because that's where the brilliance lies. Of course, I will also share my thoughts on how the film looks, in case you want to see the film and not just read the book (if you haven't already).
The story begins on a farm. From the animals' point of view, life isn't exactly all that great. Everything they produce is taken from them by the farmer. So one day, they all get together and revolt with a coordinate attack that drives the farmer away. The animals are now free to run the farm their way. Given the unfair treatment they've received from the farmer, the animals work to achieve equality for all animals. In case it's not obvious, the farmer represents capitalism in which the entrepreneurs reap the rewards for the work done mainly by laborers. When conditions get extreme, the laborers revolt and vow to make things equal for everyone. This is, according to Karl Marx, how communism begins.
For a while, things seem to go well. The animals work together to set up a new society. Of course, this is made possible through leadership from a few. In this case, the leaders are three pigs named Napoleon, Snowball, and Squealer. Naturally, the pigs take on other tasks for the benefit of all, including the creation of a set of rules (such as "Four legs good, two legs bad," "No animal shall be killed by another animal," and, most importantly, "All animals are created equal") and the building of a windmill as a source of electricity.
Pretty soon, the ideals of equality are lost. This happens because power can still corrupt an individual and make him or her selfish. In Animal Farm, the pigs feel superior to the other animals and feel that they should be rewarded more. As a result, they give themselves more food than the other animals. Later, they attempt to downplay any criticism of their leadership. The other animals realize that this is no different from living under the farmer they had ousted. As a sign of this, the pigs rewrite one of the rules so that it now says, "All animals are created equal, but some are more equal than others." Ultimately, Orwell may be arguing that the ideals of communism cannot be realized and that tyranny and corruption are inevitable results.
Given how bleak this story sounds, it's not surprising that the 1954 animated film feels very much the same. This is not a whimsical fairy tale akin to what Disney produces. This is a serious film that, I would say, is meant for adults and relatively older children. There are some sad parts in the story. For me, the saddest parts are with the horse named Boxer. In the film, this character gets his leg injured and has an accident while building the windmill. What ultimately happens to him before we never see him again really broke my heart. Now, if you're a teacher who wishes to show this film to students reading Orwell's Animal Farm, it's fine. Just remind them that the film's tone is parallel to that of the book.
As for the look of the film, it's pretty good for its time. There are only two main voice cast members: Gordon Heath as the narrator and Maurice Denham as the voice of every animal in the film. There is very little dialogue among the animals. Much of the story is told through the narrator and the animals' actions and sounds. There is also much orchestrated music that play along with much of the action. Overall, I liked the animation, but it's a minor point compared to the true essence of Animal Farm: the story and its messages, as featured in this film and Orwell's novel.
For more information about Animal Farm, visit the Internet Movie Database.