An adaptation of the George Orwell novel, in which farm animals overthrow their owner and adopt socialism — with predictable results. [ Animal Farm credits: Dir: John Stephenson/ (voices of) Kelsey Grammer, Patrick Stewart, Julia Ormond/ 91 min/ Drama/ Anti-Socialism, Power Corrupts]
“Animal Farm is at its best in portraying the pigs’ gradual accumulation of power and in depicting the typical trappings of the mega-state: forced labor, propaganda, show trials, etc. The little propaganda broadcasts that the animals watch near the end, and which are done in classic totalitarian style, are outstanding.”
For the most part, the story line here follows that of Orwell’s book. In particular, some oppressed animals living on a badly-run farm revolt against their farmer/owner and drive him off. Under the administration of the pigs, the most intelligent of the farm animals, the farm is transformed into a commune, but power corrupts, and the pigs soon become just as abusive as the animals’ former human master. By the end, “all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.”
Animal Farm is at its best in portraying the pigs’ gradual accumulation of power and in depicting the typical trappings of the mega-state: forced labor, propaganda, show trials, etc. The little propaganda broadcasts that the animals watch near the end, and which are done in classic totalitarian style, are outstanding.
However, at other times the film has a dumbed-down feeling, particularly because it goes beyond Orwell’s book by exaggerating things. For instance, in the book, the farmer (representing the status quo against which the animals rebel) is simply incompetent and drunken. Here, however, the farmer is joined by other major human characters, who are corrupt, licentious, and vicious as well. Likewise, in the novel, the old pig who invents “animalism” simply dies of old age. Here, the old pig is (accidentally) shot by the farmer and then slaughtered. So the status quo is not simply bad, but evil. Gee, I guess we wouldn’t have understood the point of the revolution otherwise.
A happy ending has also been added, one in which the (ultimately) totalitarian farm eventually collapses, literally, and those who remain are freed. This twist is presumably an update, intended to reflect the unwinding of the Soviet Union — a cheerful touch, but not as effective as the original ending. Here, we are left with the impression that totalitarian socialism and the tendency for power to corrupt are dangers of the past, not things against which humanity must still be on guard.
Overall, the film is fair entertainment. There’s enough of the original story to make it interesting and the “animatronic” techniques that give the animals a large degree of facial expression are impressive. However, if you’re only going to see one cinematic version of Animal Farm, the 1954 telling of this tale still has the edge.