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Animal Farm 1954 – An Allegorical Satire on Stalinism

July 5, 2012 | By

Based on George Orwell’s masterpiece in literature, Animal Farm, 1954, excels in the portrayal of his satire on Joseph Stalin’s rule in USSR.

Animal Farm (DVD)

Animal Farm Cast: Gordon Heath, Maurice Denham Directed by: John Halas (Director), Joy Batchelor

“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”. This is one of the principal allegories for criticizing Stalinism, used in 1954 animated film Animal Farm. Based on George Orwell’s masterpiece in literature, this film excels in the portrayal of his satire on Joseph Stalin’s rule in USSR, in spite of a number of deviations from the book. This is also Britain’s first animated feature film to be officially released.

The film begins with the arrival of spring in Manor Farm. The animals are not happy under the oppression of Mr. Jones, the owner. As discontent grows, one night, Major, an old prize boar assembles all the animals and encourages them to revolt against Jones and establish a system with equality, compassion and justice. He imbibes the principles of animalism in them and teaches them the song ‘Beasts of England’, which speaks of the liberation of animals, but drops dead in mid song.

The next morning, Jones forgets to give breakfast to the animals. The animals under leadership of a pig named Snowball, break into the storehouse in search of food. Meanwhile Jones wakes up and tries to intimidate them with a whip. The animals get infuriated and drive him away from the farm. Jones comes back with some other farmers, but the animals, once again led by Snowball, manage to defeat them. Thus the long awaited revolution finally succeeds.

The animals change the name of ‘Manor Farm’ to ‘Animal Farm’, accept Snowball as their leader, formulate the seven commandments of Animalism as per Major’s principles and paint them on a barn wall.

They are:
• Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy.
• Whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friend.
• No animal shall wear clothes.
• No animal shall sleep in a bed.
• No animal shall drink alcohol.
• No animal shall kill any other animal.
• All animals are equal.

They set out to remove all traces of Jones from the farm. In the process, a sly pig named Napoleon stumbles upon Jones’s material possessions and a litter of puppies left motherless. He secretly takes away these puppies with him.

Napoleon then proclaims Snowball’s idea of a windmill as his own and gives orders for its construction. Boxer, a workhorse along with his friend Benjamin, a donkey and other animals put in a lot of labor to finish the windmill.

Animal Farm (1954)

‘Even if the oppressed come to power, they eventually become the oppressors’
(Pic: Movie still from Internet)

Things start changing in the farm. The pigs enjoy special privileges, good food, beds to sleep and start drinking alcohol from Jones’s leftover supply, while the burden of work on other animals increase. Napoleon uses a pig named Squealer as his spokesperson to brainwash the animals into believing that they are better under Napoleon’s rule than they were under Jones’s and also to make additions to the commandments secretly, in the dark of the night.

Two of the commandments are thus changed to suit the pigs as:

• No animal shall sleep in a bed with sheets

• No animal shall drink alcohol to excess

Mr Whymper, a local trader eventually enters into a deal with Napoleon. He starts supplying them with jams and jellies in exchange for hen’s eggs. When the hens protest by throwing their eggs at the pigs, Napoleon names them traitors and hands then over to his goon squad, who slaughter them. Thus another commandment is changed as:

• No animal shall kill any other animal without cause

Napoleon also bans the song ‘Beasts of England’, citing that its relevance has ended since the dream of animal farm has been materialized.

Animal Farm’s trade with the outside world flourishes. Embittered by this success, Jones along with some other farmers once again attempt to take over the farm. Though they are defeated, Jones succeeds in blasting the windmill, striking a great blow to the farm.

A disheartened Boxer takes up the task of rebuilding the windmill, but with his failing health, collapses beside it one night. Napoleon sends a carriage in the pretext of taking him to a hospital. Benjamin notices that the van belongs to Mr. Whymper’s glue factory, where Boxer is likely to be poached and attempts to mount a rescue, but fails.

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 animals finally realize how they are being cruelly exploited by Napoleon.

As years pass, the pigs start wearing clothes and walking on two legs. One day, pig delegates from afar come to visit them.

Around this time, Benjamin notices that the seven commandments have been finally reduced to one phrase:

• All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others

This aggravates the animals everywhere. They gather in the animal farm, revolt against Napoleon under the leadership of Benjamin and manage to overthrow his regime. The film ends with a portrait of Napoleon being smashed and an indication that he is being beaten to death by the animals.

It would be helpful at this point to list down the relationship of the characters and events in the film with the actual characters and events in history:

• Old Major is the counterpart for Lenin, while Snowball is for Trotsky and Napoleon for Stalin. Boxer is a metaphor for the proletariat or the working class.

• Jones’s oppression is a symbolism for the Tzar rule in Russia, while the animals overthrowing Jones is a metaphor for the Bolshevik revolution

• The allegory correctly represents Lenin as the driving force of the 1917 revolution.

Trotsky (though he was alive, after it happened) apart from being the first leader of the Red Army, was also a Marxist revolutionary and theorist. He rose in power after the revolution and became a member of the first politburo. However, during Stalin’s rule, he was expelled from the communist party, driven out of Russia and executed on Stalin’s orders.

This is perfectly paralleled in the allegory of Napoleon driving Snowball out of the farm and killing him. Napoleon’s use of dog goon squad for slaughtering animals, that defy him, is a reference to the mass executions that were brought about by Stalin.

• Animalism is a metaphor for Communism, a practice of the theories of Socialism and Marxism that was implemented by Lenin after U.S.S.R came into existence. The violation of these principles during Stalin’s rule is reflected in the modification of the commandments to suit the pigs, on Napoleons orders.

• The establishment of trade between Animal Farm and Mr. Whymper is, in my opinion a reference to the 1939 non-aggression pact between U.S.S.R and Nazi Germany (Stalin and Hitler). The animals were shocked by Napoleon’s dealing with a representative of humans, after they had revolted against the tyranny of another representative of the same race (Jones). Indeed, the world had been shocked by this treaty between the extreme left and the extreme right wing political entities.

• The second attack on the farm by Jones and other farmers is a symbolism for Hitler’s invasion of U.S.S.R in 1941, a crucial event in the history of World War II. U.S.S.R was heavily affected by the war in spite of being on the winning side. The blasting of the windmill is perhaps a reference to this fact.

There are differences and improvisations in the film as compared to the book. The major one among them is in the ending, which is quite apt in my opinion. While the book ends in a melancholy tone, with the animals rendered helpless, the film ends with the animals revolting against Napoleon. This was quite a foresight, since Stalinism did come to an end in USSR, though not in the same way as portrayed in the allegory.

For an animation made in 1954, the film is surprisingly well made in terms of technique. Though it banks upon the potential of Orwell’s book, directors John Halas and Joy Batchelor, the creative team and the animation director John F Reed deserve equal credit for their adaptation.

The treatment, the dialogues, the expressions put on the cartoon animals and humans, the meticulously conceived scenes of the animals working and the spontaneous flow of the film’s narrative hand in hand with the theme are brilliant. Special mention must be made of Matyas Seiber, for his music. Maurice Denham’s ventriloquist talents are commendable. He single handedly gives voice to all the animal and human characters in the movie.

The storyline, though intended as a satire on Stalinism, goes beyond the confines of a particular period in history and establishes a fundamental truth of the human society; ‘Even if the oppressed come to power, they eventually become the oppressors’. This has been proved right innumerable times in history. Thus, the appeal of this film is timeless.

Animal Farm, 1954 (Full Length Animated Movie)


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Riddhiman Basu is an IT Professional living and working in Kolkata. He is very passionate about Philosophy, Music, Literature and World Cinema. He pursues film studies as a hobby. He is an amateur writer of short fiction, film related articles and a singer as well.
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