Animal Farm

Title:  Animal Farm

Released:  1954

Cast:  Maurice Denham (all voices)

SUMMARY:  Although it was once thriving, Manor Farm has fallen into disrepair and squalor under the drunken owner Mr. Jones.  After Mr. Jones goes to bed one night, Old Major, the prize boar, calls a meeting of all the animals.  During the meeting, he tells the other animals of his vision for the farm, where the animals are in control and all of them are equal.  He then teaches the animals a revolutionary song, but dies in the middle of it.  The next morning, Jones forgets to feed the animals, and the animals decide to start Old Major’s revolution:  they break into the storehouse and feed themselves.  When Jones arrives and attempts to drive the animals out, they attack him and drive Jones off the farm.  The animals then rename the farm “Animal Farm”, and try to erase every trace of humans.  They write the commandments of the new farm on the barn wall, including the most important, “All animals are equal.”  Two pigs emerge as leaders:  Snowball and Napoleon.  Snowball seems to be in charge, and works to educate all the animals:  he also has an idea to build a windmill to power the farm.  Meanwhile, Napoleon has adopted a litter of motherless puppies, and trains them privately.  For a while, things work smoothly, and the farm is very prosperous (much to the dismay of Jones and his fellow townspeople).  However, when Snowball presents his plan for the windmill, Napoleon has the dogs chase down and kill Snowball.  Napoleon then takes over as leader of the farm, and announces that the animals will work harder than ever, with the promise of future rewards.

Things gradually being to change at the farm:  rather than making decisions as a group (with every animal involved), the pigs will now make all decisions.  Several of the laws painted on the barn are mysteriously changed, allowing the pigs to do things that were previously forbidden.  Napoleon also begins to trade farm goods with humans, which causes the hens to revolt.  A trial is held, and all of the hens, as well as a sheep and a duck, are killed by the dogs as punishment.  Meanwhile, the local farmers decide to attack the farm and take back power; Jones takes dynamite to the completed windmill and blows it up, along with himself.  During the fight with the farmers, Boxer, the always-working horse (and inspiration to all other animals) is wounded.  He continues to work, but eventually collapses while trying to rebuild the windmill.  Napoleon sends an ambulance to get Boxer, but Benjamin the donkey realizes that this is really a ‘death wagon’ that is taking Boxer to the glue factory.  This knowledge upsets all the animals, but any potential rebellion is stopped by the dogs.

A number of years pass, during which time the pigs become more and more greedy and human-like, while the other animals still work extremely hard with very little food.  The commandments have now been reduced to a single one:  “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”  The pigs even hold a conference with other important pig farm leaders, and gloat about their success.  Benjamin the donkey overhears the conversation, and realizes that Napoleon has essentially become Mr. Jones.  Benjamin then rallies the other animals, and together they overthrow Napoleon and take back the farm.

MY TAKE:  This story was originally a book by George Orwell, which many people probably had to read in school.  The movie is very faithful to the book.  It’s a very obvious stab at communism and the Soviet Union in particular, with Snowball being the Trotsky/Lenin character and Napoleon being the Stalin character.  On one level, it’s kind of funny because of the blatantly obvious resemblance to the USSR, but it’s also kind of sad, because it’s hard to understand why animals (or people) put up with such bad treatment.  In the end, the animals end up no better off under Napoleon than they were under Jones.  The big difference between the book and the movie is the ending.  In the book, Napoleon continues to rule over a severely oppressed farm:  in the movie, Benjamin and the other animals overthrow the pigs’ regime.  There’s a really interesting reason for this – the CIA provided much of the funding for the movie, although the British film company and animators were unaware of this.  The film was intended to be veiled propaganda against the Soviet Union (I don’t think they were fooling too many people).  Being born at the same time the Soviet Union was collapsing, I find the movie more amusing than anything.  I don’t remember the Cold War or the tension that existed between the USSR and the United States (although it seems like some of that is coming back).  I’m sure that this is the reason that this film is on the list, because although the animation isn’t bad, it has nothing on Walt Disney.

RATING:  Pretty good.

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