To Orwell Today,
A while back I found copies of the British animated film of Animal Farm at one of the local Dollar Stores and I dropped it in the mail to you. (It came out about 1955, and my research on it told me it was partially funded by the CIA!)
Thanks a million for sending the original "Animal Farm" movie which safely arrived last week or so. I watched it the other night and was pleasantly surprised at how excellent it turned out to be, having read in my research that Sonia Orwell hadn't liked it.
However, in my opinion, the person who wrote the screenplay portrayed Orwell's story as best as is probably possible in 75 minutes. The essence of "Animal Farm" is there. The animals believed in Socialism which is what the old pig who died (Old Major) was talking about when he said "All Animals Are Equal".
It comes across very clearly that Capitalism (Mr Jones and the other human beings) and Communism (Napoleon and the other pigs) are both tyrannies which join together in the end to lord it over the animals (the people of the world).
Partially what makes this animated movie so excellent is that much of the message is conveyed merely through watching the animals as they go about their daily activities. The animated characters never speak but their actions speak for them. A narrator verbalizes the story as the animated characters act it out. There are long stretches of time where no speaking is heard.
The animation in this production is fantastic, on par with Walt Disney. The animals are depicted realistically. They aren't made into cartoon characters or android-looking things like present-day animated characters. Boxer the horse looks like a horse and only does things horses can do - the same with all the other animals (except the pigs who do humanlike things). The animals depict different attributes of the working masses.
The terror and cruelty of the pigs is portrayed profoundly and the way the police (viscious dogs) attack the animals (that's us) is totally realistic.
As the movie came to the end I was on the look-out for the changed ending which, in my research, had caused the most controversy when the film was released. However, once again I was pleasantly surprised to discover that although the ending is somewhat different, it doesn't take away at all from Orwell's message.
The final scene, as described by Orwell, had the animals looking in the farmhouse window at the pigs and human beings and not being able to tell the difference between them:
"The creatures outside looked from pig to man,
and from man to pig, and from pig to man again;
but already it was impossible to say which was which."
That scene is only slightly changed in the movie. It has Benjamin (the donkey, Boxer's best friend) imagining that he sees Napoleon's face transform into Mr Jones's face and then back again into Napoleon's face. It's the artistic way the producer and animator interpreted Orwell's closing scene.
In Orwell's version the story ends there, but the movie version carries on for a further frame. It has Benjamin going to the other animals and telling them about what he saw. The animals then come to the realization that they will once again have to topple a tyranny, this time one wherein the human beings (capitalists) have joined with the pigs (communists). In the last frame of the movie all the animals are trudging toward the farmhouse.
Another excellent feature of this original version of "Animal Farm" is that a person would not have had to have read the book or the history of Stalin and the Communist Revolution to understand its message. The message is "tyranny is hell" and that is Orwell's message as well. Afterall, many people who read "Animal Farm" then and now aren't even aware that it's an analogy of the 1917 Communist take-over of Russia by Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin.
After watching this original "Animal Farm" movie I did a search to see if it was the same version as the one Sonia Orwell is holding in her hands in the photo I have of her which I came across a couple of years ago. See A WRITER WRONGED. It turns out that it is, although the cover in the DVD version is different:
A book version of the 1954 film was published as well:
Animal Farm: The Animated Film, by Halas & Batchelor, London; Sylvan Press, 1954; 64 pages; Illustrated. Fold-out Tension Chart (This book gives an account of the art and technique for the film. "Dr Roger Manvell's account of a art in its own right takes as an example the creation by the Halas-Batchelor Unit of the first British full-length animated film, George Orwell's 'Animal Farm', a production calling for 300,000 man-hours. All the illustrations in this book are derived from the work done for the film.")
Research since watching this original "Animal Farm" causes me to arrive at the conclusion that the CIA was NOT involved in its production, as attested by the article below:
Halas & Batchelor Studio
(...Halas and Batchelor also used animation in the service of high art, making the Poet and Painter series for the 1951 Festival of Britain and such experiments as The Owl and the Pussycat (1952), a 3D stereoscopic short based on Edward Lear's nonsense poem; The Figurehead (1953), a puppet animation with a progressive score by Matyas Seiber, a student of Bartok; and Ruddigore (1964), a cartoon adaptation of the Gilbert and Sullivan opera. They are best known, however, for their adaptation of George Orwell's Animal Farm (1954). Rumours persist that the film was funded by a CIA covert operation, but Halas insisted that it was humanist and anti-totalitarian rather than anti-Communist, and the film is a considerable achievement: a feature length work of poignancy and affect which revises our expectations of animal characters as comic or sentimental figures. The sombre satire of Orwell's novel is muted by a controversially upbeat ending in which the animals once again mobilise in resistance to authoritarian leadership, but the film's highly politicised viewpoint still seems a bold and unusual one, particularly within the context of the British film industry of 1950s.)
Animal Farm Animated Film (1954)
producers Louis de Rochemont/Halas & Batchelor. run time: 75 mins
(Oppressed animals take over their farm, only to find themselves creating new tyrants within their own ranks. George Orwell's political fable is presented here in its first screen adaptation. The film was also the first British animated feature to to reach cinema screens. Production commenced in April 1951 and was completed in October 1954....Orwell's book is no fairytale, of course. By necessity, Halas & Batchelor dilute the source material a little and edit the story to fit the restraints of the medium. But even so, this is an uncompromising and challenging work. The critics applauded its arrival, though it underperformed at the box office upon original release. Perhaps the audience wasn't ready for such a bleak vision, coming after the hummable delights of "Peter Pan" and "Cinderella"? Fifty years on, this gallant film has matured most handsomely, and is essential viewing for anyone with an interest in the animaton genre...In 2003 "Animal Farm" was released as a special-edition DVD
Once again, thank you very much for thinking of "Orwell Today" and sending me one of the DVD copies of the original "Animal Farm" you found in the Dollar Store that day. What a bargain and what a good movie compared to the horrible version that came out in 1999.
All the best,
UPDATE: ANIMAL FARM 1954 ORIGINAL DVD & ANIMAL FARM BONAFIDE HALAS & WALLINGTON WILLINGDON ANIMAL FARM
ORWELL SPEAKS THRU MAJOR and VISITING ORWELL'S ANIMAL FARM
1999 ANIMAL FARM BAD MOVIE and 1984 MOVIE 1984 IS BAD
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