Directors: John Halas & Joy Batchelor
Release Date: January 31, 1954
Rating: ★★★★★ ♕
Based on George Orwell’s famous fable (published only nine years before), Animal Farm is the first animated feature made in England, it’s one of Europe’s first feature films, and it’s undoubtedly among the masterpieces of feature animation.
The film falls into the tradition of Disney-style semi-realistic cell animation. However, it sets itself apart from the Disney tradition in its grim and political story, its lack of sentimentality and its open depiction of cruelty and violence. Moreover, the backgrounds are bold oil paintings, with visible brush strokes and darker colors than any Disney film had ever shown.
Nevertheless, the realistic and wonderful animation of the animals pays some depths to the Disney tradition (see ‘Farmyard Symphony‘). It even contains one sweet character for comical relief in a little duckling who tries to keep up with the other animals. However, when the story turns particularly grim, with the killing of the Trotsky-like pig Snowball by Napoleon’s dog henchmen, we do not see this cute character again.
The assassination of Snowball is the first of several alarming events in which the animals’ revolution is betrayed. The most disturbing of these is Boxer’s ride to a certain death. This scene is the emotional highlight of the film, and it creates strong feelings of outrage and alarm, still. The horror on the face of his friend Benjamin is very well captured, and moves to this day.
Using a voice over and evocative music by Hungarian composer Mátyás Seiber, the film retells Orwell’s story effectively, its only strong deviation from the book being its ending. Where Orwell’s novel ends with the Stalin-like pig Napoleon’s regime installed, the film ends with yet another revolution – some wishful thinking that never quite came true until the late 1980′s, when encouraged by Gorbachev’s perestroika, the people all over Eastern Europe revolted against their communist oppressors.
‘Animal Farm’, which was released within a year after Stalin’s death, is still a moving portrait of the corrupting force of power. Even though its subject, the Soviet Union, has long been a state of the past, the forces shown in this movie are still active. The world is not free of Napoleons, yet…
Watch ‘Animal Farm’ yourself and tell me what you think: