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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Animal Farm is a 1954 cartoon adaptation of George Orwell's classic allegory on Stalinist Russia. With significant levels of violence -- actual and implied -- it could easily be too distressing for younger viewers, despite the simple 1950s animation. Animals are controlled and intimidated by guns, whips, and farm tools. A number of the animal characters are also attacked, killed, starved, and suffer injuries. The farmer, Mr. Jones, is an alcoholic and is regularly seen drinking, behaving aggressively, mumbling and slurring, and staggering. A number of the animal characters are also shown drinking and drunk. Packed full of political satire, this intense but supremely clever story will be enlightening for an older age group -- though they may need a parent or search engine to help them navigate all the metaphors and symbolism. It also serves as a poignant lesson in morality and the value of equality.
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What's the story?
Based on the classic George Orwell novella, ANIMAL FARM tells the story of a group of farm animals who drive out their drunken, neglectful human farmer and take over the farm. With high hopes of building a community that works together and values equality, freedom, and happiness, the animals agree on the "Seven Commandments" -- the well-intentioned principles by which they will all live. But as the pigs Snowball and Napoleon (both voiced by Maurice Denham) exert more and more control over the farm, the Commandments are gradually undermined and it soon becomes clear that justice and equality are giving way to totalitarianism and tyranny.
Is it any good?
This 1954 animation is a solid adaptation that depicts the journey from optimistic revolution to tyrannical oppression with a darkness and intensity that belies the simple, colorful graphics. Powerful music provides drama and atmosphere, managing to convey optimism, intrigue, determination, and deception -- even with relatively little dialogue -- while the imposing narrator (Gordon Heath) brings a gravitas familiar to movies from this era.
At first glance this might look like a jolly cartoon, suitable for younger viewers -- indeed, there are several moments of humor and levity. But the complex, haunting, and politically-charged storyline will be far better received by mature tweens and teens. There is no doubt that George Orwell's 1945 novella is a work of genius -- ferociously insightful yet popular and accessible. And while kids might not appreciate all the satire and symbolism, they can't fail to be affected by the themes of injustice, hypocrisy, intimidation, and corruption -- all of which serve to tell a cautionary tale that exposes the trappings of power and the fundamental need for equality.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Animal Farm as an allegory -- a story that has an alternative meaning, often using fictional characters and themes to symbolize real-life events. What do you know about Stalinist Russia? Talk about how it is reflected in this story and its characters.
Talk to your kids about other allegorical movies and how they reflect real-life situations or events. Take Zootopia for example -- what do you think that symbolizes?
Did the violence in the movie ever feel scary? Does violence with animated characters seem less dramatic? If so, why is that?
Talk about the reasons why the animals' plan for a fair and just community failed. Why didn't equality prevail? Who caused its downfall?
How did this movie compare to the book? What other movies based on books have you seen? What are your favorites?
- In theaters: June 19, 1959
- On DVD or streaming: August 18, 2003
- Cast: Gordon Heath, Maurice Denham
- Directors: Joy Batchelor, John Halas
- Studio: Louis De Rochemont Associates
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Book Characters, Cats, Dogs, and Mice, History, Horses and Farm Animals
- Character strengths: Compassion, Teamwork
- Run time: 73 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Last updated: September 4, 2020
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