Animal Farm is yet another of those books you love to have read as opposed to loved reading. Orwell, as we all know, was a socialist, but what few people realize is that he was, first and foremost, a humanist. He refused to accept that any ideology, not even his beloved collectivism, was more important than the individuals it was to guide.
So when Stalinism took root in the Soviet Union, complete with all its excesses and de-personing of opposition, this avowed socialist became, ironically, the perfect spokesperson for the CIA. Both 1984 and Animal Farm are, essentially anti-communist books that warn of the dangers of totalitarian collectivism. They have since been used to attack the left and other populist demagogues by anyone with half a brain (those without brains sometime think it can be used to attack capitalist ideals, unaware that they are talking about two different things).
So the CIA commissioned a film of Animal Farm…
While I’m not the right person to ask whether this is good propaganda or bad, I am eminently qualified to talk about the story and how it makes a viewer (or reader) feel. In this case, you feel like crap, because you just know how things will end as soon as a socialist utopia is mooted (utopias of any kind always end the same way, of course). You read the book because you want to understand the arguments and understand the Twentieth Century… but why watch a cartoon of this depressing stuff. Hell, if you want to be unhappy watch this one.
I can just imagine some poor parent, delighted with Disney’s offerings, taking their kids to see this little gem. It’s a wonder movie houses weren’t burned down by irate fathers (or their bawling children).
Of course, literate audiences will notice the major change in the film, which turns this into extremely obvious propaganda: in the end, the animals rise up against the rule of the pigs… which is very much NOT the message that Orwell delivered in his own book.
Taking the film by itself, it’s an unfortunate thing that would never have been made if not for political expediencies of the age. We should put it in the same category as things like Trimph des Willens (although this one is a masterpiece of filmmaking, Animal Farm is not), which is probably why it made the 1001 films list.
Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose passion is to extrapolate current trends and see which paths, hopeful and dangerous, they will eventually lead us down. A sterling example of this is his science fiction novel Outside, which will disturb anyone who lives in modern society. You can check it out here.