Animal Farm John Halas and Joy Batchelor

Animal Farm John Halas and Joy Batchelor
Even in contemporary filmmaking terms, bringing George Orwell's allegorical novel Animal Farm to the big screen would be prohibitively expensive (à la Babe), so it makes sense that its only feature film adaptation has been animated. This 1954 British production does a wonderful job of it too, paring the story down to its essence, letting the visual elements come alive in musical and rhythmic ways, and — even with a controversial changed ending that history has, in fact, borne out — remains true to the spirit of Orwell's vision. Orwell's retelling of the Russian Revolution through the eyes of farm animals begins when the animals get fed up with their treatment at the hands of the oppressive farmer and drive him away, taking over the farm themselves. For a while, idyll reigns, but soon corruption takes hold in the pig community and power struggles ensue. Animal Farm was the first feature film ever made in Britain; the industry had been dominated by the elegant anthropomorphised visions of Walt Disney. But with such adult themes and adapting an important piece of literature, animators Halas and Batchelor took great pains to retain a more realistic view of the animals. In fact, with the exception of a small chick, there is very little playful humour contained in this so-called "cartoon." It's quite clear throughout both a commentary and "making of" that the spectre of "Disney-ficiation" hung over the project throughout its production. It is on the commentary (by film historian Brian Sibley) and through the British television Down On Animal Farm featurette that a titbit of information gets dropped involving the CIA and the financing of the film. No concrete information is provided — although liner notes by professor Karl Cohen explore the issue more fully — but it's implied that CIA money was funnelled into the production for its use as anti-Communist propaganda. True or not, such hints put into context changes to the film's ending as well. While Orwell's novel ends on a down note — the pigs, having taken over the farm, make one last unholy alliance with men — the animated version has the other animals rising up against the pigs (an ending that would seem in keeping with the collapse of Eastern Bloc communism). Regardless of how it came about, Animal Farm remains a fascinating interpretation of Orwell's work and a beautiful piece of art in its own right. Plus: storyboards. (HVE/Morningstar)