Animal Farm (1954)


Age Rating (UK/US): U / U

In this review, I’m going to be checking out the 1954 animated adaptation of George Orwell’s Animal Farm, which I recently reviewed the book for.

Here’s the trailer for the film:

The film takes quite a lot of inspiration from George Orwell’s novel and most of the events occur but there are a number of changes.

The animals live on Manor Farm but the owner Mr. Jones is an alcoholic and neglects them.

One day an old pig named Major predicts a time when the animals will stage a revolution and take over the farm which in the film they do shortly after when Jones forgets to feed them. Jones goes to the pub and rounds up some men who storm the farm but the animals fight him back. 

They then establish Animal Farm with the rules on the barn as they are in the novel and go through Jones house where Napoleon takes the dogs away and hides them in a barn. The animals also remove every trace of Mr. Jones on the farm.

The farm initially runs well but as winter sets in, Snowball has the idea to create the windmill and is driven out of Animal Farm by Napoleon who opposes, who takes control of running the farm with the other pigs. However, Napoleon later decides to build the windmill so the animals work on this.

As the animals set to work, the pigs get increasingly greedy and lazy and begin to change the barn rules so they can sleep in the beds in Mr Jones house and eat more food than the rest. Eventually Na and the fight back so in a show trial Napoleon condemns them to death and bans the “Beasts of England song”.

Meanwhile, the animals complete the windmill but the farmers in town become jealous of their success and attack the farm again and Mr. Jones takes some dynamite to the windmill and destroys it, killing himself in the process.

The animals drive the humans out again and begin work on a new windmill but Boxer, their strongest and most hard-working horse was injured and later collapses. Napoleon claims to bring in a vet to take Boxer away but the other horse Benjamin realises it is a “death wagon” from Whymper’s glue factory. Later on a large crate of alcohol is delivered to Mr. Jones house.

At the same time, Squealer who is a big Napoleon uses as a spokesperson delivers a phony speech that on his deathbed Boxer wanted the animals to glorify Napoleon, however the animals see through this so Napoleon uses the dogs to quell their anger.

Years pass and Napoleon has expanded his running of the farm to surrounding farms with pigs in charge of them all. The remaining animals all travel to Animal Farm to decide on their future.  Napoleon invites delegates from the other farms to Animal Farm and Benjamin looks on their meeting and briefly imagines the pigs all have Mr. Jones likeness.  Realizing their situation has in fact gotten worse from the previous owner, the animals stage a revolt and though Napoleon tries to get the pigs and dogs to help him, they have fallen asleep. The film ends with the animals storming the house and Benjamin at their lead.

The film does have a number of deviations from the plot of the original novel – for example in the book the animals build two windmills with the first one being destroyed in a storm and the second one being destroyed in the attack, also some characters are completely written out of the film such as the other horses Clover and Molly. Furthermore, when Snowball is driven away in the film it is implied he is killed but in the book he is just chased away with Napoleon using it to drive fear and mistrust into the other animals in the book.

The biggest change of all though is the film’s ending, in the book the animals do look on and realise that the pigs have morphed into the humans but the book ends there whereas in the film they actually react and stage a second revolution.

What I did find interesting in doing research for this review is the film was actually created with the intention of being an anti-Communist propaganda film and was commissioned by the CIA as a film to combat Communism.

It is really interesting therefore to see the changes from the book and there is some discussion today on whether these changes were artistic or politically motivated e.g. the ending may have been changed to show that Communism would not be allowed to spread or grow in the West, but it could also be seen as a way of making the film more appealing to audiences by actually giving it a resolution and a “happy” ending.

Another change which I did find strange is the “Beasts of England” song is cut from the film. Though it is implied the animals do sing a song it just comes out as animal noises, which is interesting in light of the film’s intention to be an anti-communist propaganda film as the song in the book essentially describes Communism. However the moment when Napoleon bans it is still in the film and without the prior knowledge of the song being in the book I don’t think that would’ve made any sense to me at all as it isn’t clearly a song.

The film’s animation style is very “old-style” Disney and actually looks really good and like those classic Disney films such as Snow White, Fantasia, Sleeping Beauty etc. The film also has a narrator character describing many of the events of the film in much the same way as those classic Disney films do. 

However, the only animals that actually speak in the film are the pigs and in the early part of the film they say very little aside from the Old Major’s speech which does make this part a bit of a slog to get through – though it does highlight the pigs superior intelligence over the other animals. 

I would say throughout the film the animation and musical soundtrack is great in creating little funny moments.g. when the animals start their revolution against Mr. Jones they all start to square up to him in time with the music. 

Also when the animals go through the house Benjamin starts a record player which plays a snippet of “Entrance of The Gladiators” by Julius Fučík (I had to look that up as it is a piece of circus music everyone has heard of but I  didn’t know the actual name of the song). I’ve put it below but it adds little touches which do help keep you interested.

Though it is very entertaining, I did find it very strange that the film was actually created as an animation, given the original novels overt political commentary and satire Although having now done some further reading it does make sense and I suppose from a technical standpoint in the 1950s the only real way to adapt this book was in an animation style but the Disney window dressing of it does make me wonder who the films audience was actually for as it seems on one level to be for children but on another level for adults.

*Interestingly the film was given an X rating in the UK at the time of its release (the equivalent of an 18 today) although it now has a U rating and is used mostly in schools and colleges.

Overall for fans of the book it is an interesting adaptation and by being aware of its origins it does make in interesting from a historical standpoint and it is actually quite a fun adaptation of the film but it does have some deviations which don’t always pay off and is a little confused in who it is trying to aim for.

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