Animal Farm (1999)

Animal Farm (1999)Synopsis: There’s a new day dawning on the farm.

Chaos ensues when animals take over the farm in this magnificent adaptation of George Orwell’s classic novel, which features the magic of Hallmark Entertainment and Jim Henson’s Creature Shop.

Set in the beautiful Irish countryside and populated with a wide variety of barnyard animals, Animal Farm is sure to leave the whole family squealing with delight.

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Animal Farm (1999) 8.0

eyelights: its brilliant blend of animals, animatronics and CGI. its storytelling.
eyesores: its overly dark tone.

“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

Following the massive success of ‘Babe‘, the 1995 Australian motion picture about the porcine sheep-herder, it not only made sense for the picture to secure a sequel, it also roused all manners of copycats (‘Babe’ made over 250 million dollars and was nominated for 7 Oscars, after all…).

Enter ‘Animal Farm’, Hallmark’s 1999 interpretation of the George Orwell classic: inspired by the same techniques that made audiences around the world believe a pig could talk (confusing kids everywhere!), the producers enlisted Jim Henson’s Creature Shop to bring their dystopic vision to life.

What’s terrific about this version of the tale is that, despite being a dark fable, it’s surprisingly realistic: using a combination of real animals, CGI and puppets, Orwell’s cautionary tale comes to life before our eyes. While some of the CGI mice are subpar, the overall results actually look pretty terrific.

Frankly, when the animals meet in the barn, you’d be hard-pressed to tell the real from the fake ones. But it doesn’t just look real, it feels important, dramatic, what with all the animals shot from many angles. It’s all fairly convincing, from their uprising to seeing them do chores, like milking the cows.

It’s simply a superb production, perfectly-suited to the material. Even the propaganda films that Napoleon produces look great, satirizing political films from human history. And when the animals sing, it’s a proper song, not animal noises, carrying a revolutionary tone which gets reused in the score.

Frankly, I think that this is an excellent interpretation of ‘Animal Farm’ and I’m surprised that it doesn’t get more love. Apparently critics were unhappy with its dark tone, because it made it unsuitable for children – as though ‘Animal Farm’ could ever be sanitized enough for children to enjoy.

‘Animal Farm’ was never intended for children: it’s a satirical political allegory.

But then, to compound the problem (you just can please anybody sometimes!), some critics commented that this film was too simplistic for adult consumption, as though its overarching themes were watered down. They’re not. Anyway, sometimes you simply have to simplify for mass consumption.

Let’s just call it a gateway film for the uninitiated.

Because, honestly, a film like this one would be perfect for high school students or adults who have never properly considered the politics before. It presents its arguments plainly, and well, all the while providing just enough distance (being set in the animal world) that it doesn’t feel too oppressive.

It’s exactly the role that the best science fiction plays in our culture – except that no one complains in those cases.

So why not do the same with animals and animation?

Granted, this version of ‘Animal Farm’ takes a few liberties, such as telling the story in flashback from the perspective of Jessie, a female Collie, modernizing some elements (like bringing in a television instead of a film projector), and tacking on a fairly innocuous addition to the original ending.

But as far as adaptations go, this plays rather well: the storytelling is excellent, the human and “animal” performances are top-notch, the production looks and sounds terrific, and its intended message is conveyed properly. Orwell purists may possibly take exception to it, but others will be well served.

It’s worth seeing, even if it is the thematic antithesis to ‘Babe’.

Or, one could say, it’s ‘Babe’s dark counterpart.

Date of viewing: May 19, 2016

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