Format: DVD from Northern Illinois University Founders Memorial Library on kick-ass portable DVD player.
When it comes to a story like Animal Farm, you fit into one of three categories. First, you’ve read it. Second, you’re not yet 20 and haven’t read it yet. Third, you’re older than 20, haven’t read it, and should be truly ashamed of yourself. Thus, the following will not much discuss the actual story of this film (except as it differs from the short novel), because this is a story you should already know. Yes, you.
Instead, I’d rather talk about this particular adaptation of Orwell’s seminal work. Animal Farm has been adapted a number of times. As far as I know, this is the first version, and it’s a strange one in a number of ways. On the surface, it appears that this is an adaptation designed specifically for children. However, it is still Animal Farm, and while allegorical and simplistic in many ways, this is definitely not a story for kids.
Naturally, there are a number of changes from the original work. Many characters of various levels of importance are missing here. The raven, who seems to represent the ideas of religion in Orwell’s book sort of makes an appearance in this film, but not as a character, and certainly not as a cynical religious herald. The cat is gone as well, as is the vain horse that pulls the farmer’s wagon. I can’t help but thing that a number of these characters had important parts in the original work, and that this one is missing something for not having it.
Additionally, many events are compressed, and not really to the story’s benefit. The continual changing of the laws on the side of the barn, for instance, is given much less play here. The laws change a couple of times (and the animation reflects the recent changes with dripping paint), but only a couple of laws change here until the final revision. Again, that constant changing of what was the agreed upon creed of the animals puts far less emphasis on this section of the story, and it’s a section that requires that emphasis.
And that’s the problem here. At a spare 72 minutes (another indication that it feels made for children despite its subject matter), a great deal has been cut from Orwell’s book, and a number of these cuts either confuse the material, compress it into meaninglessness for those unfamiliar with the story, or reduce the focus from the allegory that Orwell intended.
By far the biggest issue is the tacked-on ending. This happens not because the film’s producers believed that Orwell was too harsh on communism, but because in many ways, this version of Animal Farm is a Cold War propaganda piece. Allowing the pigs, who clearly represent that communist leadership, to end the film still ensconced in those positions of power would simply not do. Instead, we get a couple of minutes after Orwell’s classic ending that at least potentially shows another uprising against a set of cruel masters. But it’s more than that—in the book, the pigs by the end are trading with other farms and are hosting humans. Evidently in this version, the pigs are dealing with other farms on which there have been animal uprisings.
This isn’t to say that everything here is bleak. This version of Animal Far gets a lot right. The animation, for starters, is tremendous. It’s lush and beautiful, harkening back to those classic cartoons of the 1940s and 1950s, with beautifully drawn cell animation. Similarly, the voice work is top-notch. It’s lovingly narrated by Gordon Heath, and all of the animal voices are performed by Maurice Denham. While it’s true that for the most part only pigs speak, Denham did all of the animal noises himself.
I don’t mean to make this review sound like there is nothing of value in this version of Animal Farm because that is simply untrue. But there is a real cloud over it. When you have one of the best-known and appreciated stories by one of the most famous authors of the 20th century, what could possibly possess you to change the ending?
Why to watch Animal Farm: Because it’s Animal Farm.
Why not to watch: The three minutes after Orwell’s ending.