Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Animal Farm

1954 - Dir: John Halas & Joy Batchelor
Shown at The FeckenOdeon on 29th October, 2005
“Animal Farm” was promoted as the “first British animated feature film”. It was certainly made in Britain by British producers and technicians... but the story of how the film came to be made has Orwellian overtones in its own right. The original novel was intended by George Orwell as an allegory of the Russian revolution and subsequent events. It protested the rightness of socialist ideals but highlighted their vulnerability to corruption. This ideal was too left leaning for the United States (at the time in the throes of the McCarthy witch hunts) and the CIA ordered that the film rights should be bought for Uncle Sam. Orwell’s widow was approached by members of the Psychological Warfare Department and passed the rights to them after a promise of a meeting with her hero Clark Gable. The CIA decided that the story, if reworked, could serve as an anti- communist propaganda tool and decreed that it should be made for the big screen. Paramount Pictures were selected to do the job but, given the prevailing climate of suspicion, it was felt that Hollywood crews couldn’t be trusted to stay on message. The contract was given to the small British studio run by John Halas and Joy Batchelor. Halas and Batchelor had been making a name for themselves with original and inventive cartoon shorts but during the war years had produced a great number of propaganda films. The script was vetted by CIA agents and the downbeat ending altered. There is evidence that Joy Batchelor was far from happy with the distortion of the story and the redirecting of the “message” - but it was the biggest commission the studio had ever had (or would ever have). “Animal Farm” was released to great critical and popular acclaim though the box office dropped off once the public realised that this cartoon wasn’t a cute Disney kiddie pleaser. Despite all of this “Animal Farm” is a remarkable technical achievement and the imposed upbeat ending probably rescues us from becoming terminally depressed!

Enjoy but please remember:
“Four legs good, two legs bad”

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