“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” – Benjamin, Animal Farm (1999)
I didn’t realise this was a direct to television movie, but to be honest I’m not surprised. Animal Farm is a book by George Orwell and it was of course adapted into a movie. Whereas his other work has been handled with care, notably Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984), this recreation of his work is about as shitty as it gets. The only reason I’m reviewing it is because I was forced to watch it a few years back for an English course. Somehow I stumbled on it in a charity shop, and now here we are. Possibly one of the worst films of all time, and I need to explain how that is possible.
The story of Animal Farm is relatively simple. Old Major (Peter Ustinov) inspires a revolution and a full takeover of the farm. Napoleon (Patrick Stewart) and Snowball (Kelsey Grammer) lead the farm to self sufficiency. Honestly if you know the plot of the book then there’s no point in me explaining all of this. A supporting cast consisting of Julia Louise-Dreyfus, Ian Holm and Paul Scofield is definitely something to warrant. What I want to understand really is how such a talented cast of individuals can be so terrible in this film.
None of the performances are overall any form of good. Some of them are mediocre at best, others are genuinely terrible. Peter Ustinov somehow manages to butcher the one but very lengthy line of dialogue he is given at the start of the film. He makes himself sound like a very discount version of Winston Churchill. Still, he’s not around for very long. Anyone that has read the book will understand that Old Major dies in his sleep. For those that watched the film, you’ll understand that Old Major is tragically shot out of a window. Two very, very different scenes there, and it causes a major problem for the narrative.
Straying from the book to create cinematic impact is fine at times. But changing major parts of the book is never okay. In very few circumstances does it really work, and Animal Farm is completely terrible in that regard. Every deviation from the book is noticed because of just how massive it is. The Old Major death scene being what it is makes me wonder what else they changed. Old Major’s death alone is enough for me to throw my hands up and say enough is enough. Bearing in mind this is only ten minutes or so into the film. Deviations from the book are fine at times, but Animal Farm is taking the piss in regards to what it does.
Something that has always weirded me out is animation, especially in the 90s. When your film is all about talking animals you’re gonna have to rely on CGI. The problem with that is the CGI used for the animals is genuine trash. It looks genuinely atrocious in every sense of the word. Often I let a film pass on the CGI so long as it has a good plot and decent acting, but there’s nothing here to distract from it. All of your attention is constantly fixed on the genuine disgrace that is the CGI. I would say it could be worse, but it really couldn’t. Somehow they manage to make everything look bad.
I mean, even the human actors in this film had something wrong with them. Both Mr. Jones and Mr. Pilkington are probably the main two actors in regards to main humans. Both roles are played with the grace of an explosion of shit, there is nothing redeemable about either roles. It genuinely puzzles me how dreadful the acting is. You have on the one hand, a very talented cast. On the other it’s a TV movie that probably didn’t get much care put into it. Let’s be fair, the animals look abhorrently disgusting. They’re not only an eyesore but they really do make me feel uncomfortable.
For some reason the way the animals talk in this film is through really poor CGI. By this I mean they just unhinge their jaws and waggle them about a bit. Sure, the voice actors do okay with what they’re given, but really it’s just a mess. Some are a lot less noticeable than others at least, the pigs get through scott free. However Jessie the dog, for some reason, looks like they have actual human teeth. I’m not sure what effect this was supposed to have, but the effect it had on me was one of fear.
My only positive remark about this film is that at least it’s a short one. Clocking in at just an hour and twenty minutes, it’s not the longest thing you’ll ever watch. Really I’m so very thankful for that. Ironically the only positive thing I have to say about the film is that it’s pretty much over as soon as it starts. The film is so short that a good third of the book is crammed into the last fifteen or so minutes of the film. Boxer is unceremoniously culled via a van and they do a weird montage of Pilkington becoming a pig.
Once again I haven’t commented on the cinematography because quite literally there is nothing interesting to comment on. They don’t use lighting in a unique way or any of that artsy stuff. The soundtrack for the film may honestly be one of the most generic sounding I’ve heard in a very long while. A couple of violins slapped together with something they probably bought off of the internet in a discount deal. The whole feel of the film gave off some sort of weird, sub-par Chicken Run (2000) feel to it.
Was there something so important about Animal Farm that it had to be made as a film in 1999? I understand why Nineteen Eighty-Four was made in 1984, that’s a very obvious reason to make the film. But as for Animal Farm, it was a cartoon in the 50s and they seem to have waited a long while before tackling it again. Honestly I wish they’d waited a lot longer, maybe after a couple hundred years. If this film hadn’t been made then that would be a genuine positive to the world. Destroying every copy of this film may be the only chance we have at world peace at this rate. I just found out the man who played Mr. Jones had an OBE. That is a surprise.
It’s so poorly made in every aspect you can think of. The music is generic, the acting isn’t much better. Nothing ever comes up that makes you think that this is a George Orwell novel. With Nineteen Eighty-Four you had the benefit of sticking to the book. The references and overall tone of Orwell’s work was apparent and enjoyable. With Animal Farm it seems like a blatant cash in, ironic really considering the overall message of the book was something to do with communism.