Animal Farm (1954)
After watching the disturbing Watership Down (1978) I wasn’t in a rush to watch any other hard-hitting animation. I think because it was more graphic than anything and the level of violence even in animated form was something I wasn’t expecting. Still that was a while ago. I knew very little about Animal Farm (1954) apart from the communist allegory which makes me think that it was adapted for the screen as a propaganda by the government at the time.
By the end of the film I had decided that in a certain light that the leader Napoleon was a caricature of Winston Churchill which is something I would hate to associate the wartime leader who saw my country through WWII. Even Maurice Denham voice work leans towards that suggesting that in a certain reality his speeches could skewed, being used as communist rhetoric to lead the people. Here the boar Napoleon so aptly named takes over the farm after a rousing speech by their dead leader The Old Major who dies before them in the large red barn. Stirred into action after the farmer had failed to feed them the night previously. Literally the last straw after being map-treated by the careless and cowardly farmer.
What follows is a rebellion by the animals who literally run him off the farm, only to spend the remainder of the film at the Red Lion Pub drowning his sorrows. Leaving the pigs to take charge of the other animals who are ready for leadership. Wanting to operate the farm themselves, first needing a set of laws or commandments that are painted on the front of he barn for all to see. Only a few that are left open to interpretation and manipulation . A simple frame woe that is supposed to bring order and harmony to the farm as the start out on this idealist journey, working together for the greater good. All the while the Pigs look on, enforcing the law.
They are the elite of the farm, you can clear see the image of an idealist world of all people working together is just an illusion to allow a few at the top to have a better life. One in which they can blind the masses with rhetoric that empowers them and indoctrinate them to work harder. With the first harvest soon out of the way it’s time to look to the future when one of the free-thinking pigs has plans to build a windmill that will generate power for the farm, leaving them truly self-sufficient, no need to rely on the outside world for anything, becoming an isolationist farm. This idea is soon trampled on by Napoleon who along with his guard dogs leads Snowball away never to be seen again remembered only as a traitor to the farm. Taking over as supreme leader on the farm. Taking up residence in the old farmers house, once off-limits to the animals becomes an exception to the pigs, who live now in the palace that looks over the farm.
I could go on telling you plot which is sees Napoleons hold on power grow firmer, as he pushes the animals to do all the work, as the build the windmill that acts as a symbol of power and independence, relying on nature to provide their power, a radical step to take at the time. The farm soon becomes a camp surrounded by barbed wire that sees these once free-range animals worked like prisoners who still believe in the principles of the farm that have been altered to suit the pigs.
I don’t really know a lot about communism, maybe this acts as an eye-opener am I just listening to propaganda, should I just go out there and find out for myself how communism work, which all but failed in 3 countries around the world. With Russia then at the centre of world fears, the Cold War increasing during the 1950’s this surely acts as a way to rouse feelings of the public. How easily we can be lead astray if they are disillusioned. Sold an ideal that can work but ultimately should not be allowed to if you look beyond the promises when you look at the power structure.
Moving away from the communist allegory for a moment to see this as animation, by todays standards it does look crude, rough and ready, I guess time has not been kind to it. This does show it to be a product of its time, with all the dirty. The animation is broad allowing, not humanising most of the animals, so you see them for who they are. There is little dialogue which allows you to see how fast an ideal can take hold before being destroyed by the ‘traitors’ and the loss of Boxer the horse who is eventually sold to the glue factory. What little we have are delivered by Maurice Denham. The order of things on a farm never strays too far, you have the farmer/leader who tends to the animals who ultimately serve one purpose to become product for human consumption. It’s not an easy film to watch, not one for young kids for sure, its not Watership Down but it still carries a strong political message, maybe not so strong in the later film, however it still makes you think after seeing a traditional English setting adopts a communist philosophy that ultimately breaks down.