Appreciating Animal Farm in the new millennium

Citation metadata

Author: John Rodden
Date: Winter 2003
From: Modern Age(Vol. 45, Issue 1)
Publisher: Intercollegiate Studies Institute Inc.
Document Type: Article
Length: 5,733 words

Document controls

Main content

Article Preview :

WITH THE APPROACH of the centennial of George Orwell's birth in June 2003, much attention is already turning to reassessments of his life and to the ongoing relevance in the new millennium of his masterwork, Nineteen Eighly-Four (1949). (1) Easily neglected amid the hoopla is the magnificent little beast fable of totalitarianism which launched Orwell's fame and which he often called his "favorite" book, Animal Farm (1945). This essay looks at how changing historical conditions have altered the reception of Animal Farm in the last decade--since the collapse of the U.S.S.R. in December 1991. My focus is on how differently Orwell's allegory is being encountered by new generations in the twenty-first century--who are not even old enough to remember the existence of the Soviet Union. Extended consideration is devoted to a representative example of these changes and their implications: the remarkable film adaptation of Animal Farm and how its technological marvels are transforming young viewers' experience of Orwel l's allegory.

The Wonders of Animatronics

In October 1999, Turner Network Television broadcast its $24 million adaptation of Orwell's Animal Farm, which was co-produced by Robert Halmi, Sr., and Hallmark Entertainment. The film is partly animated, with great British Shakespearean voice actors such as Patrick Stewart (Napoleon) and Peter Ustinov (Old Major) providing the animal voices. (2)

A refugee from Soviet-occupied Hungary during the early postwar era--and a man who also spent World War II in Budapest under Nazi rule--Halmisaid that he intended to do Animal Farm for decades, but that the technology was not available for a sophisticated animated version. Jim Henson's Creature Shop, a cutting-edge voice-tech firm, helped provide the combination live-action and animated effects that the movie incorporates. (3)

The new adaptation of Animal Farm-- the first since the 1955 British version by the husband-wife team of John Halas and Joy Batcheler--occurred as the news media were commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, originally published in June 1949. As a result, Orwell's Aesopian fable was lost in the long shadow of Nineteen Eighty-Four.

It may take longer to watch Halmi's two-hour adaptation of Animal Farm than to read Orwell's little allegory of revolution and totalitarianism. Given the entertainment preferences in the age of the mass media, however, it is likely that many people in the future--especially school-age youth--will encounter Animal Farm first or exclusively through this spectacular new video version. The new adaptation merges computer graphics, humans and animals, and what is now termed in the animated film industry "animatronics"--animal robot "doubles" who possess human voices. Halmi used a dozen electronically controlled animal-like robots, developed by the wondrous animated technology of Henson's Creature Shop (the industry leader in "animatronics"). While such high-tech puppetry and computer effects had already been used to stunning effect in Babe: Pig in the City (1998), the adventures of a civic-minded pig, Hens on takes them further in Animal Farm. And it is these technological innovations that make the new Animal Farm a breakthrough film: the special effects are amazing. This is no...

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|A99699591