Animal Farm (1954 film)

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Animal Farm

Directed by John Halas{
Produced by John Halas{
Written by Joy Batchelor
Based on Animal Farm by
George Orwell
Narrated by Gordon Heath
Starring Maurice Denham
Music by Matyas Seiber
Studio Halas and Batchelor
Release date(s) 7 January 1954 (1954-01-07)
Running time 80 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English

Animal Farm is a 1954 British animated film by Halas and Batchelor, based on the book Animal Farm by George Orwell. It was the first British animated feature to be released (Handling Ships, a Royal Navy training film, was produced earlier, but due to its purpose did not receive a formal theatrical release). The C.I.A. paid for the filming, part of the U.S. cultural offensive during the Cold War, and influenced how Orwell's ideas were to be presented. The CIA initially funded Louis de Rochemont to begin work on a film version of Orwell's work and he hired Halas & Batchelor, an animation firm in London that had made propaganda films for the British government.[1]


Manor Farm is a former prosperous farm that has fallen on hard times, and suffers under the now ineffective leadership of its drunken and aggressive owner, Mr. Jones. One night, Old Major, the prize boar and the second-oldest on the farm, calls the animals on the farm for a meeting, where he compares the humans to parasites and encourages them to break free from their tyrant's influence, while reminding them that they must hold true to their convictions after they have gained freedom. With that, he teaches the animals a revolutionary song, "Beasts of England", before collapsing dead mid-song to the animals' horror.

The next morning, Jones neglects to feed the animals for breakfast, and they decide to break into the storehouse to help themselves. When Jones wakes up and attempts to intimidate them with his whip, the animals revolt and drive the drunken and irresponsible Mr. Jones from the farm, renaming it "Animal Farm". They set to work destroying every trace of Jones' influence, mainly the weapons used against them. An investigation of the farmhouse leads them to concede against living there, though one of the head pigs, an antagonistic boar named Napoleon, who takes interest in the abandoned house, and even more so in a litter of puppies left motherless.

The Seven Commandments of Animalism are written on the wall of a barn to illustrate their community's laws. The most important is the seventh, "All animals are equal." All the animals work, but the workhorse, Boxer, and his friend Benjamin, the young donkey and the film's protagonist put in extra work. Snowball attempts to teach the animals reading and writing; food is plentiful; and the farm runs smoothly. The pigs elevate themselves to positions of leadership and set aside special food items ostensibly for their personal health. Napoleon takes the pups and trains them privately to be his Goon Squad.

When Snowball announces his idea for a windmill, Napoleon opposes it. Snowball makes a speech in favor of the windmill, whereupon Napoleon has his dogs chase Snowball to the fields. In Snowball's absence, Napoleon declares himself leader and makes changes. Meetings will no longer be held and instead a committee of pigs will run the farm. Using a cowardly young pig named Squealer as a mouthpiece, Napoleon spurs the animals into setting forth his regime. The animals work harder with the promise of easier lives with the windmill.

Napoleon abuses his powers, making life harder for the animals; the pigs impose more control while reserving privileges for themselves. During this time, the pigs also decide to start altering their own laws. "No animal shall sleep in beds" is changed to "No animal shall sleep in beds with sheets" when the pigs are discovered to have been sleeping in the old farmhouse. "No animal shall drink alcohol" is changed to "No animal shall drink alcohol to excess" when the pigs discover the farmer's whisky.

Before long, Napoleon's greed drives him to negotiate with a local trader named Mr. Whymper for a supply of jellies and jams. The price is all the hens' eggs. When the hens discover this, they attempt to revolt by throwing their eggs at the pigs during an attempted seize by force. To instill fear, Napoleon not only puts the hens at the hands of the pig committee, but also selects a duck and sheep to be false accused of treachery. They are taken outside and murdered by the dogs, with their blood used to edit a commandment regarding killing to being legal "with cause". "Beasts of England" is banned as inappropriate, as according to Napoleon the dream of Animal Farm has been realized.

Growing jealous of Whymper's financial success due to his trading with Animal Farm, a hostile group of farmers attacks the farm, and Jones, who was denied the chance to rejoin them, uses blasting powder to blow up the windmill with himself inside. Though the animals win the battle, they do so at great cost, as many, including Boxer, are wounded. Boxer continues working harder and harder, until he collapses one night while working on the windmill. Napoleon sends for a van to take Boxer away. Benjamin notices that the van belongs to Mr. Whymper's glue factory, and attempts to mount a rescue, but his attempts are futile. Squealer delivers a phony speech, claiming to have been at Boxer's side at his deathbed, and his last words being to glorify Napoleon. The hurt animals fully realize that Boxer's death was planned simply to promote further loyalty to Napoleon's dictatorship, but are sent away by the snarling guard dogs.

Years pass, and the pigs now have learned to walk upright and wear clothes. Napoleon now dresses in a suit with medals (a reference to Nikita Khrushchev). The Seven Commandments are reduced to a single phrase: "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others." Napoleon holds a dinner party for a delegation of outside pigs, who congratulate Napoleon on having the hardest-working animals in the country on the least feed. Napoleon gives a toast to when pigs own and operate farms everywhere.

Benjamin, overhearing the conversation, imagines the faces of the pigs changing into the face of Mr. Jones. Realizing that things have become "worse than ever for ordinary creature", all of the animals unite together to overthrow Napoleon. The film closes with a smashed portrait of Napoleon as he is being overwhelmed and beaten to death "off screen" by the animals.

Who matches who

Pigs match Bolshevistic Jews, dogs match Jewish lackeys, Hens match rich peasants "kulaks", sheep match stupid, misleaded opportunists, the horse matches hard working people, the donkley matches Orwell himself, who sees, how false is the Jews' play. The cat matches oppurtunistic persons unwilling to work.


The animation historian Brian Sibley doubts that the team responsible was aware of the source of the funding, initiating the project,[2] which came from the Central Intelligence Agency to further the creation of anti-communist art.[3]

The "financial backers" impacted on the development of the film - the altered ending, and that the message should be that, "Stalin's regime is not only as bad as Jones's, but worse and more cynical", and Napoloeon "not only as bad as JONES but vastly worse ". And the "investors" were greatly concerned that Snowball (the Trotsky figure) was presented too sympathetically in early script treatments and that Batchelor's script implied Snowball was "intelligent,dynamic,courageous". This implication could not be permitted. A memo declared that Snowball must be presented as a "fanatic intellectual whose plans if carried through would have led to disaster no less complete than under Napoleon." de Rochemont accepted this suggestion.[4]

Halas and Batchelor were awarded the contract to make the feature in November 1951 and it was completed in April 1954. The production employed about 80 animators.[5]


Much of the pre-release promotion for the film in the UK focused on it being a British film instead of a product of the Hollywood studios.

When first released, the British Board of Film Classification gave this film a rating certificate of "X" (the same category is now "18") prohibiting anyone under 18 from seeing the film, presumably due to its very political and violent behaviour. The film has since been re-classified as "U" (Universal), suitable for all audiences.

To coincide with the film's release, a comic strip version was serialised in newspapers, drawn by Harold Whitaker, one of the animators.

Scenes from Animal Farm, along with the 1954 TV programme Nineteen Eighty-Four, were featured in "The Two Winstons", the final episode of Simon Schama's program A History of Britain.

Critical response

The film critic C. A. Lejeune wrote at the time: "I salute Animal Farm as a fine piece of work… [the production team] have made a film for the eye, ear, heart and mind".[6] Matyas Seiber's score and Maurice Denham's vocal talents have been praised specifically (Denham provided every voice and animal noise in the film). The animation style has been described as "Disney-turned-serious".[7]

Some criticism was levelled at the altered ending, with one paper reporting: "Orwell would not have liked this one change, with its substitution of commonplace propaganda for his own reticent, melancholy satire".[7]

In popular culture

The Clash used an image from the 1954 animated movie Animal Farm on their 45-RPM single "English Civil War".[8]

Home media

The 'Special Edition' DVD includes a documentary hosted by Tony Robinson.


  1. Daniel J. Leab, Orwell Subverted, Pennsylvania State Press, 2007 p.xiii-xiv ISBN 978-0-271-02979-5
  2. Orwell Subverted, Daniel Leab, p.11
  3. Sibley, Brian. Audio commentary on UK 2003 'Special Edition' DVD release of Animal Farm
  4. Orwell Subverted, p.75-79
  5. Karl Cohen. The cartoon that came in from the cold | Culture. The Guardian.
  6. Lejeune, C. A. "At the films: Pig Business", The Observer, January 1955.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Author unknown, "Animal Farm" on the screen", The Manchester Guardian, 1955.
  8. An Ezine for record collectors and enthusiasts. Endless Groove.

External links