Review: Animal Farm (1954)

animal farm

Ah Communism, destined to fail, eh?

Story Development By: Joy Batchelor, John Halas, Borden Mace, Philip Stapp, & Lothar Wolff
Directed By: Joy Batchelor & John Halas

I read Animal Farm many years ago, but it’s a story that managed to stick with me for the most part. The big ideas, the take on Communism, the dangers of Capitalism, the belief in needing to work together and have a community structure, those ideas stayed with me throughout the years. Going into my first viewing of this animated adaptation I wanted to get into the characters more, because they didn’t stick with me all that much back when I read the novel. Animal Farm, the film, is a pretty good film and I think now that they have been presented to me on screen the characters will stick with me longer this time out.

The themes at the heart of Animal Farm resonated with me just as much this time as they did when I read the novel years ago. The film functions as an anti-Communist manifesto, and a poignant one at that. The reason the message works as well as it does is because we know it is what has happened with Communist countries. I’ll be the first to tell people that the ideas upon which Communism was founded are great ideas. If people were able to function in the way Communism wants them to then Communism would most likely produce a better society. However, what Animal Farm knows and gets to rather quickly is that people aren’t geared for an idea like Communism to work. We fight against one another, we strive for power, and certain people do believe they are more worthy, and entitled, than others. The film version of Animal Farm doesn’t add much to the themes from the novel except for a more upbeat ending. The upbeat ending in the film helps to enhance the themes in a different way, as it essentially offers up the idea that revolution is a must, at every turn and every time.

Where Animal Farm is weakest is the animation. The technique is a standard 2D technique, but it’s executed in a very bland fashion. At times the animation gives personality to the animals, but on the whole the animation adds little to the scenes. The script and the themes are where the strengths of the film reside. Benjamin baying at the murder of his friend is an impact moment in the film, but it works mainly because of the thematic structure of Animal Farm and not the animation. I’d like to, at some point in the future, see George Orwell’s work done with a more evocative animation style, one that would match the larger themes at play in the story.

Animal Farm is a pretty good film, but it’s not a great film. The animation holds back the themes, and that does detract from the film. The ideas at the heart of Animal Farm are still prescient to this very day. That’s why I enjoyed watching Animal Farm. I would recommend that people seek out Animal Farm, maybe even show it to your young ones at the right age, because it’s a sophisticated adult story that should be helpful to kids when it comes to understanding the way the world works. I wish the animation had been better, but despite the animations blandness Animal Farm manages to be a movie that should stick with the viewer.

Rating:

***

Cheers,
Bill

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5 responses to “Review: Animal Farm (1954)

  1. I’m a big fan of the novel and have never seen the movie, and after this review – I think I won’t. Considering you said that the movie doesn’t differ from the topics dealt in the novel and that these topics are the movie’s best aspect, I think I’ll just stick with the novel.

    Dorian

  2. Certainly a valid decision.

  3. Nice review! I’ll have to toss in that I find that the film is indeed solid (despite the boring animation) because it doesn’t muck up the ideas and themes in the book (unlike other animated or other novel adaptations that add stuff for fluff and enrage purists). So PSP should screen it and not let a review turn him off (as I don’t think that was your goal).

    That said, I’ve always found that many ideas and philosophies that have common sense goals fail not because of those, but because we as humans get caught up in semantics and our own stupidity and fail to let things work as they need to.

    Some just like to break things and blame anyone in the vicinity when all falls apart, it seems. Ah well… one of these days, I’d love the world to have an “eureka!” moment. Of course, that will be with an asteroid three days away, ha ha… eek.

  4. Michael Correy Lambert

    I guess I was about 7 or so when I saw this on Australian television and it made rather a big impact on me precisely because it was not some Disneyfied animation and its ideas impressed me. Of course later I would read and understand more fully the book. This I believe was the United Kingdom’s first animated feature. Might be time to revisit it though like you I think I’d be disappointed with the fairly standard animation.

  5. Gee – I’d love to live in a world where the common goal approach worked, I’m pretty close to a socialist at heart I suppose. Sadly, I don’t see human nature ever allowing a common goal approach to work, for just the reasons you stated.

    Michael – The ideas should still stand out though, so even if the animation does let you down there are those ideas at least.

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