Daily Archives: February 21, 2021

Animal Farm (1999)

*. I made the point in my notes on the 1954 Animal Farm that its style of animation was very much of its time. The same might be said of this adaptation, directed by the Academy Award-winning veteran effects man and former head of Jim Henson’s Creature Shop John Stephenson. Stephenson had, most notably, done the effects for Babe (1995), which this movie will immediately put you in mind of.
*. Orwell’s novel is a classic, both dramatic and accessible. Stephenson was an obvious choice to direct. The cast was all-star, with Pete Postlethwaite as Mr. Jones and the voice of Benjamin the donkey, Peter Ustinov as Old Major, Patrick Stewart as Napoleon, Kelsey Grammar as Snowball, Ian Holm as Squealer, Julia Ormond as Jessie (an Australian shepherd), Julia Louise-Dreyfus as Mollie, and Paul Scofield as Boxer (his final film role). Whew! Add to that a budget of $22 million, a fortune for a TV-movie, and you should have really been expecting something great.
*. Those expectations, alas, are cruelly dashed. This version of Animal Farm is awful.
*. It’s not too hard to say why. The story is trashed even worse than in the 1954 version, which at least had the excuse that it was being financed by the C.I.A. In this movie we get a subplot added involving the relationship between Mr. Jones and Pilkington (and Pilkington’s wife) which I thought totally unnecessary. A narrator is added in the form of the aforementioned Jessie, an animal not in the original. Napoleon’s canine praetorians have disappeared, to be replaced by a Rottweiler, while there aren’t enough pigs to constitute a social class. The ending is changed, again, to something a lot more upbeat, indeed uplifting.
*. I don’t think any of these decisions work, or add anything of value. Another new wrinkle, that has the pigs producing Stalinesque propaganda films, is another such novelty. At least in that case I could say it was kind of interesting, even if it was an idea that, like the other creative decisions, didn’t make sense. I also didn’t think the all-star voices were very apt. Stewart does well enough as the tyrant, foreshadowing his later turn as Macbeth, but he’s the only one who I thought passed muster.
*. I was thinking of writing more about this, but there’s no point. Given the talent involved it’s a huge disappointment that seems to have gone off the rails right from the planning stage. Save your time and go back and read Orwell.