ANIMAL FARM [1954 / 2014] [60th Anniversary Edition] [Blu-ray] [UK Release]
Halas & Batchelor’s Acclaimed Adaption of George Orwell’s Celebrated Satire!
An outstanding achievement for award-winning animators John Halas and Joy Batchelor, this landmark adaptation brilliantly conveys the horror and humour of George Orwell's scathing satire. To celebrate its 60th Anniversary, the film is featured here in a new High Definition transfer made from original film elements.
Inspired by the dream of Old Major, a prize boar, the overworked animals of Manor Farm rise up against their negligent, drunken owner and drive him out. Led by two young pigs, Snowball and Napoleon, they establish their own self-sufficient farm, but as the farm flourishes it begins to slide into dictatorship. Narrated by Gordon Heath.
FILM FACT No.1: Awards and Nominations: 1956 BAFTA Film Awards: Nominated: Best Animated Film.
FILM FACT No.2: The story of how his book was turned into Britain's first animated feature film is fascinating, not least because the movie was funded by America's Central Intelligence Agency. The truth about the CIA's involvement was kept hidden for 20 years until, in 1974, Everette Howard Hunt revealed the story in his book “Undercover: Memoirs of an American Secret Agent.” Why did the CIA choose England as the place to make the film? They were impressed by the advertisement commercials Halas & Batchelor had made for Kellogg’s Cornflakes, and by the wartime propaganda films the couple had been behind. The CIA also thought it would be cheaper to make the film in England and believed, with good reason, that they would be able to keep the English animators in the dark about who was funding the film. In the optimistic C.I.A. approved ending to the film, the (non-pig) animals ask for help from the outside. They are helped, enabling them to crush the evil Stalin ruler. Some endings are more equal than others, it seems.
Voice Cast: Maurice Denham (All Animals)
Directors: John Halas and Joy Batchelor
Producers: John Halas and Joy Batchelor
Screenplay: George Orwell (based on a story), Borden Mace (story development), John Halas (story development), Joseph Bryan III (story development), Joy Batchelor (story development), Philip Stapp (story development), (uncredited), Laurence Heath (uncredited) and Lothar Wolff (story development)
Composer: Mátyás Seiber
Image Resolution: 1080p (Technicolor)
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
Audio: English: 1.0 LPCM Mono Audio
English: 2.0 Dolby Digital Stereo Audio
Running Time: 72 minutes
Studio: Halas and Batchelor / Network
Andrew’s Blu-ray Review: Celebrate the 60th Anniversary of Britain's first feature-length animated film, ‘ANIMAL FARM’ that was George Orwell's classic fable about repression, revolution, and corruption became a quirky animated mini-classic 1954 animated feature caught the bleakness of George Orwell's allegory, and the growing usage of the animated cartoon as a medium for conveying something more than short spurts of slapstick entertainment and children's fairy tales is eminently marked by the rendering of George Orwell's novel "Animal Farm" into a full-length adult cinematic satire, which opened at the Paris yesterday. This vivid and biting animation of George Orwell's popular tale of social revolution and disillusion, expressed in terms of animals on a farm, is, indeed, a pretty brutal demonstration of the vicious cycle of tyranny, and what there is of outright laughing humour in it comes from the smartness of its clever caricatures.
Obviously, the British animators, John Halas and Joy Batchelor, who made this film for Louis de Rochemont Associates, were most fascinated and inspired by the task of presenting the leaders of the new Power State of the animals as pigs. For their most illuminating and devastating revelations of inhumanity and selfish greed are in their brilliant drawings and animations of the dictatorial Napoleon and his fellow swine. It is in the ponderous porcine features and pompous movements of these heavy beasts, who lead the animals in a revolt against the farmer and then set up a socialistic state in which they impose a tyranny of their own, that a sense of the monstrous hypocrisy of the totalitarian leader type is conveyed and the irony and cynicism of the idea of this satire is most clearly visualised.
Actually, the pigs are the only creatures that are fully caricatured and they to a lesser degree, the donkey, Benjamin, and the swarthy Farmer Jones. The rest are fairly representational with the sheep, the chickens, the cows and ducks and the heroic draught horse, Boxer, who comes to a horrifying end when he is carted off to be made into glue. As a consequence, the drawing of this cartoon is very close to what is known as the Disney style, with prettified and heroine animals set in quaint and Manor Farm fields and barns. And, indeed, one or two of the sequences, such as that of the animals doing the daily chores or building their own proud windmill, would do credit to a Disney cartoon.
But the theme is far from a Walt Disney animation, and the cruelties that occur from time to time are more realistic and shocking than any of the famous sadisms that have occurred in Disney films. The business of Napoleon bringing up puppies to be his own special pack of killer dogs, the liquidators of those who oppose him, is, for instance, blood-curdling stuff. And the carting away of poor old Boxer is unrelieved agony.
The film was distributed Louis de Rochemont Associates, whose major achievement up to then was the creation of the March of Time newsreel format in the US, though he had also produced feature films dealing with sensitive political issues. But later research suggests that the funding was provided directly by the CIA, who at the height of the McCarthy witch-hunts was keen to back a popular film with an explicitly anti-Communist message. To emphasise this, George Orwell's profoundly pessimistic ending was softened, though it's still left ambiguous as to whether the rule of the hated pigs truly is coming to an end.
However, that's the nature of this picture, as it is of George Orwell's novel: The shock of straight and raw political satire is made more grotesque in the medium of cartoon. The incongruities of recognisable horrors of some political realities of our times are emphasised and made more startling by the apparent innocence of their surrounding frame. John Halas and Joy Batchelor were hired to direct what would turn out to be Britain's first animated feature film, with Maurice Denham supplying all the voices, bar the narration, by Gordon Heath. The visual style recalls the great Walt Disney features of the 1930s and 1940s, though the content is far more adult and notably unsentimental.
Blu-ray Image Quality – In celebration of its 60th anniversary, ‘ANIMAL FARM’ has been brought back to life with this Network’s brilliant 1080p encoded image, with of course an equally impressive 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The restoration of the animation film for this transfer is also very impressive. The picture quality is great; carefully preserved to recreate the image without damaging its original look and feel. The colours are not oversaturated, and it does not seem to look like there has been too much DNR [Digital Noise Reduction] and definitely gets a 5 star rating from me for a great effort of the team at Network. Network has done an outstanding job with the musical elements of ‘ANIMAL FARM,’ treating them with importance and respect. Mátyás Seiber’s score is simply breath-taking and brings a whole new dimension to cartoon animation. Interestingly, Halas & Batchelor’s ‘ANIMAL FARM’ is often dictated by the rise and fall of the score, giving the audience an immersive experience that’s only heightened by Network’s competent restoration. Network’s rendition will allow George Orwell’s and Halas & Batchelor’s legends to survive respectively; with the 20th century tale facing a contemporary and ever-changing audience in the 21st century. Please Note: Playback Region B/2: This will not play on most Blu-ray players sold in North America, Central America, South America, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Southeast Asia. Learn more about Blu-ray region specifications.
Blu-ray Audio Quality – The sound is in its original 1.0 LPCM Mono Audio, which is very clean for a film released in 1954, especially with the recording techniques that were not so sophisticated in 1954, that you expect from audio sounds that you get with films released today. Still, this is a great preservation of ‘ANIMAL FARM,’ which will do a fine job of replacing your worn-out VHS copy. But overall it is a great effort on the part of Network and their team in finally seeing the best animation Halas & Batchelor ever produced with this brilliant classic animation cartoon from the Halas & Batchelor vaults.
Blu-ray Special Features and Extras:
Audio Commentary with Brian Sibley: Here Brian Sibley introduces himself and informs us that he is a Film Historian and is also an English writer. He is author of over 100 hours of radio drama and has written and presented hundreds of radio documentaries, features and weekly programmes. But the thing that strikes Brian Sibley with the opening film credits is how prominent Louis de Rochemont is credited and was a major American filmmaker known for creating, along with Roy E. Larsen from Time, Inc., the monthly theatrically shown newsreels “The March of Time” documentary series. Brian Sibley also points out the wording states it is a “Memorable Fable,” whereas George Orwell called it personally a “Fairy Story,” which is an interesting concept. Brian says that what strikes you is the music composed by Mátyás Seiber, which is very lyrical, pastoral, especially with a wonderful visual opening, which is so reminiscent to the beautiful English countryside, but it quickly turns to a great brown burnt out colours of the farm, that gives it a totally sinister look. When you see Moses the raven sitting on the Manor Farm sign, and that the raven is a very important character, especially throughout the animated film progresses, because the raven is a sort of sentinel and an observer of everything that is taking place on the farm, who is basically a silent witness and also the music gives the impression of something that is very foreboding, and also something suggesting there are doomfully things to come. Brian Sibley praises the brilliant effects of light and shading that we would normally associate with a Walt Disney animation, but with a Halas & Batchelor gives us a more European style animation, with heightened animation. Brian Sibley feels that when “Old Major” collapses and dies, which is a very bold move, so very earlier on in the animated film, which was a very dramatic move on the part of Halas & Batchelor. When the animals rise up against the humans and they run off, but suddenly we see the dog has been killed, and Brian says that Halas & Batchelor are not scared to show death, like in real life, whereas with a Disney animation, it would not be shown, but then the animals in turn destroy everything related to the humans, which relates to the tyranny of Famer Jones, and is a very symbolic part in the animated film, and is also very evocative, because it beautifully animated without any use of dialogue or narrative. Brian says that over the passage of time is depicted especially with the changes of the seasons are superbly done with superb animation, especially with stylised backgrounds, but when it comes to scenes with snow, which is very flat, but is highlighted beautiful with the animals footprints in the snow. Brian Sibley feels when you see the animals start to build the windmill, which Brian Sibley feels is brilliantly choreographed sequences, and it much characterisation is created in a way in which the animals pull things, push things, lift things and Brian also points out particular “Boxer” the shire horse shows the weight he is pulling and also the other animals as well, which is brilliantly animated observation. Brian Sibley comments on the scene where it starts to rain, which is the first time we have observed and the sheer struggle and tension of the animation in seeing Boxer and Benjamin still struggling to finish building the windmill, and the dramatic conclusion is when Boxer is seriously injured and the sad pathos of Benjamin consoling Boxer his long term friend and is trying to revive Boxer, which is so brilliantly portrayed, where you have great comedy, but with high pathos. As we get to near the end of the animated film, where the animals rise up against the tyrannical pigs, and is rendered with shadows on the wall of the farm house, especially seeing the portrait of Napoleon is smashed, but finally we see the rest of the animals marching forward and the birds fly over their heads, which perhaps gives the impression of a renewed promise for hope for the future and Brian feels that ‘ANIMAL FARM’ might not have a Disney happy ever after ending, but it is one of optimum, never the less it is an ending like no other animated film that was made before or since, which I concur 100%. But with Brian’s summing up of this very powerful prophetic animated film ‘ANIMAL FARM’ and the very forwarding thinking and professional Halas & Batchelor team, in producing one of the best animated film for all of us in the United Kingdom and how John Halas, Joy Halas and Louis de Rochemont were not afraid to be very provocative and fight against the strong criticism by the British Government of the time and the strong prejudice personally by Winston Churchill against his portrayal and caricature of the pig Napoleon, because Winston Churchill had no personal say in the matter, because if there had been interference from all politicians, the film would of turned entirely different to the detriment to free speech and a much more sanitised direction of the animated film, so once again three cheers to Halas & Batchelor for standing up against the establishment.
Special Feature: A Stay Tooned Special: Down On Animal Farm  [480i] [1.37:1] [29:15] Presented by Blackadder’s Tony Robinson, and in each episode he would give an in depth profile of key cartoons or studios and this “Stay Tooned” special presents a special programme to mark the re-release of the Halas & Batchelor’s animated feature and also charts the history of the film and the Halas & Batchelor animation studio. We get an in depth look at ‘ANIMAL FARM’ especially considering the BBC TV Series was made for a BBC Children’s TV audience with interviews from Bob Godfrey [Animator], whilst Maurice Denham [Voice Actor] talks us through performance, animator Harold Whitaker [‘Animal Farm’ Animator] elucidates on the art of animation and are all tied together by Tony Robinsons presenting style, which keeps it from being too patronising, which most BBC Children’s TV have a tendency to fall into. But as an added bonus, we get excerpts from: ‘Train Trouble’ ; ‘Filling the Gap’ [Black-and-White] ; ‘Dustbin Parade’ [Black-and-White] ; ‘Festival of Britain’ [Documentary]; ‘The Owl and the Pussy Cat’ ; ‘The Figurehead’ ; ‘Animal Farm’ ; ‘Ruddigore’  and ‘Automania 2000 , sadly some of the animation you view is of very poor quality. This documentary stands as a good introduction into the Halas & Batchelor studio and the film.
Special Feature: Storyboards to Feature  [1080p] [1.37:1] [25:54] This Storyboards to Feature comparison, unusually these storyboards are in full colour and simplistic in design resembling what we would see today as a colour script. Nonetheless comparing them to the final film is compelling enough. It is really good to see what Halas & Batchelor’s extensive storyboard we see and how you get to see the finished film beside the storyboard.
Special Feature: Character Sketches  [1080p] [1.37:1] [2:56] Here we get another peep into the archive of Halas & Batchelor, with character model sheets, sketches and action poses of the cast all laid out for the film. Here you get a short video showing some of the original black-and-white pencil character sketches of the key characters in the animation film that aided the animation of facial expressions that was eventually transferred to the finished animation film.
Special Feature: Poster Gallery  [1080p] [00:46] Here you get to view three very rare specially designed colourful cinema advertising posters for the film ‘ANIMAL FARM.’
Special Feature: Clapperboard extract  [480i] [1.37:1] [13:02] Here once again we dip into the archive of the Granada TV cinema television programme entitled “Clapperboard.” This is a fascinating interview with John Halas that is centred around the animated film ‘ANIMAL FARM’ and gives his perspective of the film. It is interesting to hear how an irate Winston Churchill contacted the production team after the release about his caricature in the film. John Halas also talks about the key points of the film, including why the ending was added. But as a bonus you get to see lots of clips from ‘ANIMAL FARM,’ but sadly throughout this Clapperboard extract you get to view varying quality of the images that goes from average to some washed out colour.
Special Feature: Image Gallery  [1080p] [3:57] Here you get to view 80 stunning images, that includes black-and-white images of behind-the-scenes, also lots of beautiful colourful promotional items, stunning black-and-white and colourful of all of the artists sketches, beautiful colourful cells that went towards the making of the brilliant Halas & Batchelor award winning animation film ‘ANIMAL FARM.’
Special Feature: PDF Material  All the Special Features are available via the BD-Rom drive on your PC or Mac computer.
Finally, ‘ANIMAL FARM’ is a pretty good film, and the animation cartoon itself is technically first-rate. The animation is very clean, and the colour image rendition is beautifully defined. The Halas & Batchelor team really knew their animation business in a very professional way. But don't make the mistake of thinking this is for young children, just because it is an animated cartoon, in fact it is aimed more at an adult audience, as some of the scenes would really scare and frighten children and give them nightmares. The idea at the heart of ‘ANIMAL FARM’ is still very prescient to this to a very modern audience and that is why I really enjoyed watching this brilliant Blu-ray of ‘ANIMAL FARM.’ I would without doubt recommend that people seek out ‘ANIMAL FARM,’ and maybe even show it to young viewers at the right appropriate age, because it’s a very sophisticated adult story that should be helpful to young viewers when it comes to understanding the way the world works. One of the finest entries into The British Film collection yet, as ‘ANIMAL FARM’ is an animation film loaded with lots of meaning. George Orwell and animation fans alike will greatly enjoy this. Whilst the United Kingdom has an incredible variety of animated feature films with its history of film heritage and definitely starts with ‘ANIMAL FARM,’ which lasts as a testament to the professional talent of the day of the very professional Halas & Batchelor team and as inspiration for the talent of the future. But most importantly ‘ANIMAL FARM’ is a masterpiece of animation that still makes a pin-sharp point in today's society of increasing political and social inequality. Highly Recommended!
Andrew C. Miller – Your Ultimate No.1 Film Aficionado
Le Cinema Paradiso